July 31, 2006

Ouch! - or - Ironman USA / Lake Placid: A Race Report

Somehow you do it.

You survive through eight long months of emotionally and physically draining segments of non-stop training: hour after hour, day after day, week after week. Thousands of mind-numbing laps in the pool. Endlessly painful hours in the saddle and relentless pounding on the pavement.

And then one day you wake up and you are crossing the finish line of an Ironman race. Just as quickly as it started – poof! – it is done. You have lived your dream.

As we all know by now, Ironman is a journey, both physically and emotionally. And I have to say, it was quite an amazing adventure that Catherine and I had with this Ironman Lake Placid thingy. After all the training, the ups and downs, the good and bad, both Catherine and I not only finished the Ironman USA race, but we did an amazing job, if I may say so myself. And I just did. Not only were we both strong crossing that finish line, but we clocked in at just about the exact times that we had predicted.

So without further ado (and in order to avoid me rambling on in some meaningless, pseudo-philosophical tangent), let me get right to the race details. This is long, there is so much I want to tell you... so please bear with me. I’ll do my best to narrow it down. And I'll toss in some low-brow humor to make sure you’re still awake. So stay with me here. It pays off in the end…

THE PRE-RACE DRAMA

I knew that there were only three things I had to focus on for me to have a successful race. Three very simple things. I like to call them my Ironman Psalms:

* IM Psalm #1: SLOW and EASY. If I kept a slow and easy pace, I wouldn’t burn out. Slow is smooth, smooth is fast. Silly saying, but catchy enough to work.
* IM Psalm #2: DRINK and EAT. Nutrition could so easily be my downfall. As long as I kept drinking and eating, I would survive.

* IM Psalm #3: STAY POSITIVE. A positive attitude is the key to a successful Ironman. So I plastered on my positive smiley face.

The three Ironman Psalms were my bible for the day. But in Ironman, it’s all about the unknown. The tension and anxiety that oozes from the beginning of an Ironman boils down to a fear of the unknown. It’s a long day, anything can happen. Maybe that wee-bitty bolt on your bike’s handlebars will suddenly break halfway up the hill. There’s always the chance that your stomach will finally revolt against the Gatorade you’ve been training with for months. And what about the feared cramps? Those dreaded cramps.

So as you stand there toeing the line, eagerly anticipating the starting gun, this myriad of doom-laden possibilities courses through your brain. Please God, you pray, suddenly realizing you are not an atheist after all. Let me have a good race.

And then…BANG!
It’s time to go.

But wait, I’ve already gone off on a tangent and didn’t even start my story. See what happens when I’m left to my own? Alright, let’s try this one more time...

Catherine and I got to the race at 5:15 am and, with our bodies numbered, walked into the transition area to remove the plastic bags on our rain soaked bikes and load up the bottle cages with our super special race fluids. Officially, we had been up since 3:45 am when the alarm clocks went off. Unofficially, we’d been up for nearly 24 hours. Show me a person who sleeps the night before their first Ironman, and I’ll show you somebody who’s got a secret stash of Valium.

After giving my bike the once-over, I noticed the valve on my tire was bent and the tire had lost a bit of air overnight. I didn’t want to stress about it so I did the next best thing – I started justifying. It must’ve been the evening’s cold that let the air out, I thought as I pumped it back up and put a valve cover on top of it. The tire will be fine, I tried to convince myself, albeit somewhat lamely. (Lamely?!)

We left the bike area and walked over to our transition bags to stuff in a few extra last minute things. Let’s give my bike a final look-over, I said as we finished with the bags. I’m a bit nervous about that rear tire. We walked back to the bike and as we got there I unscrewed the valve cap. Suddenly it let out a resounding hissssssss. (That hiss, by the way, is officially known as one of the worse sounds to hear right before a race.) Shit! I screamed. Flat tire. Within a second, my adrenaline spiked. Red-lined, to be exact.

Shitshitshitshitshit.

I frantically took out my tools and tore off the flat tire. I ripped out the tube and threw it aside. I reached over to my bike and grabbed one of my two spare tubes and started cramming it into the tire. But wait… I looked at the new tube and it, too, had a broken valve. DAMN!! AAAAAHHHHH!!! I screamed as I threw the tube aside. I reached into my saddle bag and took out my very last spare tube. I started shoving that into the tire as quickly as I could with my hands violently shaking in fear, anxiety and panic. Visions of disaster floated through my mind like seagulls crapping on my brain.

I sure hope I don’t get a flat on the course, I tell Cat maniacally as I scrambled with the wheel. I have no spare tubes left. I’ll be out of the race.

Within a flash, she was gone. Five minutes later she returned holding two extra tubes that she bought for me at the tech station. [Yet another line item on my long list of reasons why I love her.] Here you go, she said as she handed the tubes to me.

Finally the tire was fixed. And with two extra spares in my bag, I felt more comfortable. Disaster averted. No more danger, Will Robinson. I took a deep breath to calm myself down.
[inhaaaale]
[exxxxxhaaaaaale]
Whew!

With the pre-race drama complete, we put on our wetsuits and walked to the swim start.

SWIM
The Days Swim Challenges:
* Random moments of highly aggressive swim violence
* A solid uppercut to the right goggle, twisting and smashing it against my face
* A hefty slap to my left goggle, filling it up with water
* A bad case of the zig-zags. Straight line swimming? I don’t think so.


The Ironman USA swim takes place in beautifully serene Mirror Lake just on the edge of downtown Lake Placid. The swim is an easy out and back that you do twice, broken up by a short little 20 foot trot across the beach.

About 15 minutes before the race start, Cat and I meandered into the water together to do our pathetic little swim warm-up. We started out by floating on our backs to calm the nerves. That, of course, didn’t work out so well. So after 30 seconds we stopped.

Not wanting to tread water for ten minutes, most participants stand around the edge of the lake in the shallow waters until the race start. We decided to follow everybody’s lead and got ourselves over to a large group of people on the side of the lake about halfway back from the starting line. We stood there together as the Star Spangled Banner was belted over the loud speakers.

With the National Anthem finished, we only had a few minutes before race start. Our nerves were at a high. The time had come and there was no turning back. When the announcer called out the 1 minute mark, I turned to Cat, kissed her, wished her good luck, told her I loved her and swam off closer to the front and the middle of the pack where, as it turns out, there was not a single person within ten feet of me.

The nifty thing about the Mirror Lake swim is that all of the buoys are connected by a yellow rope which runs about 3 feet under the water’s surface. So if you are brave enough, you can swim down the center and just follow the yellow rope as if it were a lane line, never needing to look up and make sure you are on course. Of the 2,156 participants, I’d say at least 1,000 thought that might be a good idea. As you can imagine, cramming 1,000 swimmers into a 10 foot width can make for a very crowded, particularly violent swim. Knowing it would get pretty hairy out there, I decided to take it nice and easy and stay in the so-called calm waters about 20 meters away from the buoys.

BANG!

The gun went off and I started swimming. It happens so quickly, there’s not even time to think. One second you’re a regular schmo listening to a crappy version of the national anthem as you stand calmly peeing in a lake, the next second you’re suddenly an Ironman racer. That was surreal - for about three seconds. Then, of course, I had to keep moving forward.

I could see hands and feet flailing all around me, but nobody was touching me. This is great, I thought as I swam along. Take it slow, focus on the form. Stroke, reach. Stroke, reach. I figured I’d hit the pack soon and the pushing and shoving would commence, but after a couple of minutes I was still swimming in my own bubble - nobody laid a hand on me. Stroke, reach. Stroke, reach. I found myself surrounded by slower swimmers so I navigated myself through the open holes. One open spot to another I’d glide through. Stroke, reach. I didn’t really bother to lift my head up and look for the buoys since it appeared we were all headed in the same direction anyway. As long as I saw feet in front of me, I figured I was swimming the right way. So I just kept looking for the open holes. Stroke, reach. For ten minutes I did this, barely a hand pushing me, nary a foot kicking in my face. This is great, I thought. Whomever said an Ironman start is chaos definitely didn’t follow my race.

And just as quickly as that thought hit my brain, I looked down and saw a yellow rope right under me.

Aaaww shhhit…

You know that feeling when you run a red light. Maybe you’re driving five or ten miles per hour above the speed limit, too fast to stop when the light turns red, so you have to blow right through it on a wing and a prayer and a sickening feeling of impending doom. Maybe your life doesn’t quite flash before your eyes, but the movie reel is definitely queued up and waiting. It could all end in a matter of seconds and there is nothing you can do about it.

That was my feeling when I saw the yellow rope. Impending doom.

I braced myself for impact. Two seconds. Five seconds. Seven seconds. Nothing. I thought I was safe, I had avoided the collision. That’s about when it happened.

An arm reached out of nowhere and belted me across the jaw. I looked up only to see a wall of kicking feet one or two inches from my face. I was being pushed by people on my left, punched by people on my right and somebody behind me was starting to swim right over my body. I turned my head to breathe and swallowed a vat of Mirror Lake. I tried to slow down but it was impossible, the pack just kept swimming forward. It was a stampede. I realized that if I slowed down I’d get pushed under the water and swum over by the 1000 people behind me. I couldn’t go to the left or right because we were packed like sardines and the only way I could speed up was to swim over the 1000 people in front of me. There was no escape. I had visions of those kids in Cleveland who got trampled at The Who concert in the 80s. I don’t want to get trampled and killed like I was in Cleveland. I don’t like Cleveland. I don’t even like The Who! HELP!!!

Realizing the reality of my situation and the futility of thinking about Cleveland at a time like this, I entered survival mode. My Stroke and Reach turned into something more like a Punch and Block. As each arm hit the water, I’d throw it in front of my face to ward off the kicking in front of me. And I started kicking my legs harder to push off the people coming up behind me. I was no longer a swimmer but a fighter standing on the ropes, blocking the non-stop barrage of punches. Stroke, block. Stroke, block. I pushed forward as aggressively as I could. Stroke, block. Hit, punch, push, kick. Stroke, block.

Finally, the violence abated.
Suddenly nobody was in my way anymore.
This is some fucked up shit, I said to myself.

I focused on my swim again as I moved further away from that yellow line. Maintain the flow, I told myself. I got back into the groove. Stroke, reach. Stroke, reach. All I have to do is just keep swimming, I told myself. Just keep swimming until they tell me to stop. And so I did. And it felt great.

I finished the swim in 1 hour and 8 minutes, about 9 minutes faster than I expected and completely relaxed, not a pinch of fatigue. I was ecstatic. Holy cow, this is turning into a great day already.

I unzipped my wetsuit, jogged over to the “peelers”, lay down on the ground and –WOOOSH! – it was off. I got up and started the quarter mile jog down the carpet, through the throngs of cheering, screaming, yelling spectators. I hadn’t gotten but 50 meters down the chute when I heard my name being called over my left shoulder. I turned around to look back and saw my mother and step-father jumping up and down, waving and screaming my name, smiles stretched across their faces. I was wet, it was cold, but my heart warmed up at the sight of them. I wanted to stop and go back to them. I wanted to tell them that I had a great swim, that I was so happy with my time. I wanted to let them know that I loved them and that it meant so much to me to see them standing there and yelling. But there would be time for that later – I continued my absurdly long jog to T1.

SWIM TO BIKE TRANSITION
The Men’s changing tent was a cross between absolute chaos and an afternoon tea party. Half the people were dumping their transition bags on the ground, tossing miscellaneous stuff out of their way, throwing on their riding gear and running out the door. Then there were the others – like me – who were just trying to move quickly and confidently while staying calm, cool and collected. I reached into my transition bag and took out my bike shorts, arm warmers and the other few items I needed. How was your swim? I asked the gentleman sitting to my left as I changed into my bike clothes. Pretty good, he said, nice warm water out there huh? And we chatted it up as we calmly changed into our biking clothes and quickly went on our way.

BIKE
The Day’s Challenges:
* Rear derailleur rubbing against my spokes whenever I climbed hills (and there were a lot of hills)
* Saddle sore, also known as butt chafing, during the last 40 miles.
* The usual sore, painful back
* Tired legs
* A whole lotta peeing


The Lake Placid bike ride is deceptively challenging. It is a two-loop course that’ll kill ya on the second loop if you don’t take it easy on the first loop. The first 30 miles are a triathlon racers wet dream, highlighted by a 6 mile downhill where you can reach speeds of 50 to 60 mph, and 10 miles of flats where you can pound forward pretty smoothly. Mile 30 is when the uphill really begins. There’s the three mile climb up to Wilmington, the rolling out-and-back to Haselton and then the 9 mile climb back to Lake Placid. In truth, it sounds a lot worse than it is. After having trained on unrelentingly steep and excruciatingly long canyon climbs, these were a piece of cake. The Lake Placid climbs are not that steep and are far from unrelenting. To the contrary, they are continuously spotted with easier or flatter parts to allow for recovery. What they call a 3 mile climb to Wilmington is really just a 1 mile hill with a few rollers. Same with that 9 mile climb, it’s just two 1 mile hills with a bunch of rolling climbs scattered throughout. That said, if you don’t take it easy on the first lap, those last 25 miles will eat you up and spit you out like a wee little hors d’oeuvre. Many people warned me of this, so I repeated to myself the first of my three Ironman Psalms: Slow and Easy. And I took it VERY easy. People were passing me throughout that first lap as if I were riding backwards. But I just kept telling myself to stay slow, stay positive (Psalm #3) and, hey, while I’m at it I should have something to drink (Psalm #2). All I have to do is finish. If I stick to the plan, that’s what I will do.

So I piddled along. And I wondered where the hell Catherine was. I figured she’d pass me by now but I hadn’t heard hide nor hair of her. Did she have a rough swim? Is she OK? I tried to not let these thoughts drag me down. I kept pedaling in my sea of concern. Finally, at the out and back around mile 40, I saw her riding towards me and looking pretty damn strong. I breathed a sigh of relief. How are you feeling? I yelled at her, wanting to stop and hug her. Wanting to tell her I loved her and congratulate her on us getting this far. Great! she screamed back as we quickly rode beyond shouting distance. And I smiled a smile that started at my heart and extended to hers. How sickeningly, beautifully poetic.

By the 52 mile mark I hit the last big climb before downtown. Lo and behold, I was still feeling pretty good. I was keeping it slow and easy, drinking and eating continuously and, hell, I was as positive as a goddam meadlowlark in a field of friggin flowers. As I climbed the hill I looked up to see my family yelling and screaming at me. A sight for sore eyes. Seeing them got me even more energized and I Lance Armstrong-ed my way to the top of that hill like it was a speed bump. Alpe d’Huez, my ass.

One of the best parts of the Ironman USA race is riding your bike through the thousands of cheering, yelling, screaming spectators lining the roads through the town of Lake Placid. It is mayhem, but mayhem in a good way. The energy elevates you.

As you weave your way through the enthusiastic throngs, you know what its like to be a superstar. I heard my name announced from the loud speaker, and the crowds cheered louder. And so I curved along those streets like I was the Tour de France winner (without the steroids, of course). With each turn, I picked up the pace and rode the energy, trying to soak it all in. As I passed by Mirror Lake I saw Cat’s family, jumping up and down, waving and yelling my name. YEARRRGHH! I screamed back at them, too swept up by the crowds to dribble out anything coherent. They probably thought I became retarded after that first bike loop. For a second, I thought I did too.

I turned the corner and rode in front of the Olympic Arena, where I saw my father and step-mother waving and screaming with smiles on their faces. Should I stop? I thought for a second. Should I slow down and let them know that I’m feeling great, that I’m having a wonderful day? But no…. I waved at them as I tossed my arm warmers to the side. I zipped around the last corner, and just like that, the crowds dissipated and I was back out on my second loop.

I took physical inventory and realized that the stomach wasn’t doing great. I needed solid food in me. I took a bite of Powerbar, but that didn’t do the trick. Suddenly I heard something hit the ground behind me. Whaaa?! I felt my back pockets but could sense nothing missing. I looked back, but saw nothing. Suddenly another rider pulled up alongside me. Were those your pretzels that fell on the ground? he asked.

Shit. I said as I reached back to my shirt pocket only to realize they were missing. Yeah, I guess they were, I said.
Damn, damn, damn, I thought. I could really use those pretzels.

Do you want some of mine?, he calmly asked as he rode by my side.

Huh? Um… uh…I stumbled on my words, a bit taken aback. I wanted his pretzels badly. In a normal world, I would’ve jumped over and strangled him for those pretzels. I would’ve ripped the pretzels out from between his very teeth. But I wasn’t in a normal world, and I’m not much of a strangler. Or a teeth ripper. Instead, I felt guilty. I didn’t want to deprive this racer of his pretzels.

No thanks, I said. I have Fig Newtons. I’ll be fine with those.

No really, he continued as he quickly opened up his bike bag, pulled out a plastic baggie of pretzels and handed them all to me. Take them, he said.

Wow…thanks, I replied in relief, shock and gratitude as I grabbed the bag from him.

They’re honey oat pretzels, he yelled back as he rode off into the distance.

Honey oat pretzels?! I thought to myself as I rode along the street holding the bag. Are you fucking kidding me?! I HATE honey oat pretzels… Ever since that time I gorged on a bag until near nausea, I’ve despised the damn things. But, alas, I needed solid food to settle my stomach so I opened the bag and took one in my hand.

As I took a bite of the pretzel, the heavens opened up, the Lord’s Choir began singing and angels danced a happy jig on my shoulders (or was it a tango?!). At this point in this moment in this place, these pretzels were the single best morsel of food that I had ever tasted in my life. Wow, I said out loud. I ate about three more pretzels. Wow. Soon my stomach calmed down. I decided to save the rest of these tasty little treats for later.

I’m not going to say the rest of the ride was uneventful, but I will spare you the gruesome details. Suffice to say, my legs were tired, my back was tired and I had to pee every 30 minutes. However, I kept it slow and easy (Psalm #1). I kept eating and drinking (Psalm #2) and, godammit, I stayed positive (Psalm #3). And I finished the bike in 7 hours and 11 minutes, about 20 minutes faster than expected. As if that’s not enough, I was only 2 seconds slower than Catherine’s bike time! What’re the odds.

BIKE TO RUN TRANSITION

The moment I rolled into transition a volunteer took my bike from me and started rolling it back to the bike rack while I ran to the changing tent. As soon as I got into the tent, yet another volunteer came over to me, asked me if I wanted help, then took my transition bag and dumped it all on the ground in front of where I was sitting. As I changed my clothes, he sat holding my bag and waiting for me. And this is where we take a brief moment to give a shout-out to all of the Ironman volunteers who go above and beyond the call of duty for the athletes. I wish I could hug each and every one of them individually. Instead, I’ll just loft out a hefty, hearty THANK YOU, and continue on our way out of the changing tent.

RUN
The Day’s Challenges:
* Blister on my small toe, left foot
* Random, oftentimes excruciating pain in right foot
* Legs that were tired as all hell
* Seemingly non-stop peeing
* Apparently some serious chafing in the nether region, which I didn’t realize until later.


An Ironman race is really about the run. More specifically, it’s about the last 10 miles of the run. The swim and bike are just warm-ups for the marathon. Fortunately, I love running.

The moment I walked out of the changing tent and crossed the timing mat for my marathon, the crowd was going crazy. They were yelling louder than I’d heard them before and the cowbells were in a clanging frenzy. A marathon begins with one step, and my first step was right onto Cloud 9. This is amazing, I thought. I feel like the winner. I realized how ironic that thought process was about ten seconds later when the race leader passed by me and turned into the finish line. All of the screaming and yelling suddenly made sense - and it had nothing to do with me. Oops.

The IM USA run course is not that bad. In fact, it's quite gorgeous. It’s a two loop course through tree-lined, river-lined roads, with two out and backs. You pass through downtown a total of four times. Think of it as shaped like an “L” where downtown Lake Placid is at the point where the two lines meet. There are only two major hills on the course (well, since you do them twice, let’s call it four major hills) and they’re right in a row as you head back into town (Miles 10 and 11, 23 and 24). They’re short, probably only a quarter mile long, but they’re steep little feckers and if you don’t have any legs left or if you’re not keeping that ever-so-popular positive attitude, you’ll quickly learn to really hate these hills.

Remembering Ironman Psalm #1 (Slow and Easy), I started my marathon at a piddlingly slow shuffle – a pace that I felt confident I could hold for 26.2 miles. I also made the decision to walk all of the Aid Stations (they were spaced about a mile apart). That 10 meter walk not only ensured that I took in enough fluid and foods (Psalm #2: Eat/Drink), but it also gave me a little reward for not having walked since the last Aid Station (Psalm #3: Stay Positive). So off I went, piddling along like Winnie The Pooh on an Amazing Adventure. From Aid Station to Aid Station I shuffled, never thinking of the full road ahead of me. To borrow the words of E.L. Doctorow, racing an Ironman is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but somehow you can make the whole trip that way. My Ironman headlights only extended to the next Aid Station, yet I knew that this would get me through the entire race.

I hit the first turnaround at mile 5 and felt great. As I started heading back towards town I saw Catherine running up the street towards me. Good Lord she looked great! We ran towards each other in the middle of the street with our arms outstretched. KISS ME! I yelled as we ran into each others arms.

We’re doing great! I said as we embraced. I love you!

And off we went. I headed back to town as she continued up towards the turnaround.

The race number you wear during an Ironman has your name on it. It’s one of the best parts of Ironman racing. As you run through the crowds, you get a non-stop barrage of people cheering you on by name. You wouldn’t believe how much that drives you. Every time you hear your name, it picks you up and makes you stronger. And as you hit the last hill before entering downtown Lake Placid, the cheering pulls you up like an emotional chairlift. And though it’s incredibly steep, you somehow find yourself going faster at the top than you were at the bottom. So by the time I started the flat two mile out-and-back next to Mirror Lake, I was running on clouds. And when I saw my family (and Catherine’s) at mile 10, frantically screaming for me, I felt such warmth and pride. My father started running up the sidewalk at my pace, asking me how I’m doing.

I’m feeling pretty good, I yelled back, somewhat surprised that I was able to yell so coherently. My legs are really tired, I continued, but I’ll get over that.

You look great, he screamed. Keep it up!

I soon hit the turnaround and headed back into town when I saw my sister standing there waiting for me. I’ll run with you for a half-mile, she said as she started shuffling along with me.

Sometimes it’s the small things that make a race better. It’s the surprisingly comforting taste of pretzels at just the right time. It’s the stranger who yells “You look strong! You look like a runner!” It’s the random spectator sitting silently on the side of the road - as you look straight into their eyes you can see their heart and are instantly overwhelmed with the pride and awe they have for you. The comfort of my sister running by my side, the release in letting her know how I was feeling (blister on left foot, right foot in serious pain, legs tired, but I’ll manage), the companionship, even for just a brief few minutes – it meant the world to me. As we got back to the family she peeled off to the side. I’ll see you in 13 miles! I told her as I continued back out of town.

I’d like to say that the last half marathon was uneventful and, for the day or two after the race, I’d have said it was. But the reality is that it was far from uneventful. It was extremely painful. When I got to the mile 14 Aid Station, I’d nearly had it. I didn’t know how I was going to keep running. I didn’t think I had any energy left in me. As I walked the 10 meters of that Aid Station, I looked for anything inside of me that would keep me moving forward. Anything whatsoever.

My race started there at mile 14.

There’s a poem by Walt Whitman called O Captain! My Captain!. That is how the poem starts, with those words, O Captain! My Captain! It’s funny how so much meaning can be put behind such simple words. For months, those four words have reminded me of Catherine. They remind me of the way she motivates me, inspires me and awes me. Those words drive me. And every time I say those words, I can feel Catherine next to me, pushing me forward. It encourages me.

And so, as I walked through the mile 14 Aid Station and searched for any speck of inspiration to keep me positive, the words immediately flowed out of my mouth.

Oh Captain! My Captain!, I said to myself. And a hint of energy surged through my body as memories of our tough training sessions came to mind. Oh Captain! My Captain! I said louder as I reminded myself that I was stronger than this. Oh Captain! My Captain! I repeated as my legs started running again. Over and over again I uttered those words. I said them silently and I said them out loud. And each time I repeated them, I felt Catherine next to me. And it lifted me off the ground. It drove me further.

I miraculously made it to the mile 18 turnaround and started heading home. I did a physical inventory and immediately sensed the reserves dropping rapidly. I needed some serious fueling at the next Aid Station if I didn’t want to hit the wall. And I really didn’t want to hit the wall.

I plugged along, around corner after corner, desperately looking for that Aid Station. What seemed like never-ending miles, was really just a half of a mile, but it lasted so goddam long. Finally I saw it – the Aid Station loomed a few steps in front of me. As I approached the Gatorade table, I stopped to down a glass then moved on, solely focused on the food. Fig Newtons, bananas… I needed food and I needed it bad. I drank more water and grabbed a banana. Suddenly, in my delirium, I saw Catherine on the other side of the street. A sight for sore eyes, for sure, but all I could focus on was getting food in my system.

Hi honey! she yelled at me. I glanced over at her in a daze. I wanted to speak but nothing came. I need food, I thought. Must eat food.

You’re heading home! She screamed.

I must say something, I told myself. I must say something.
We all are! I yelled back. Then turned around and continued on my quest for food.

We all are?! What the hell did that mean?! What I meant to say was We are both doing great. We are both going to make it and we are both headed home right now.

We all are?! How lame. I continued running, the thought of my retardness (yes, retardness) keeping my mind occupied for the next couple of miles. Or at least until mile 20 when it felt like I broke my right foot.

My foot had been hurting for the past 10 miles, but it was right before the turn back into town that it turned to hell.

SHIT! I yelled as I slowed to a near stop. What had progressively felt worse and worse finally felt like a bone chip on the outside of my foot. I hobbled along for about 20 feet, desperately wanting to continue running. I didn’t want to walk. I can stand the pain, I told myself. Just keep moving. Step, limp. Step, limp. As I turned the corner towards the hill, I looked up. About 50 feet away was a man with one leg who had been racing in front of me the entire day. Here he was, at mile 20 of the Ironman marathon, running smoothly with one real leg and one plastic one. As I looked at him moving smoothly, I couldn’t help but be inspired. There’s a saying that goes something like this...

I used to complain about my shoes until I met a man with no feet.

How apropos, I thought. If I’m going to complain about my hurt foot, I told myself, I need to do it to the guy who’s only got one leg. That’ll show me. After all, here was a man with one foot who was doing just fine. What right did I have to complain? So I shut my trap and remembered Ironman Psalm #3: Stay Positive. I moved towards the center of the road where I could run on flat pavement, and I sucked it up. I can deal with this, I told myself. And so I picked up the pace.

As I reached the last hill at mile 24 it was mayhem. Hundreds of people had lined the road and they stood there slamming on their cowbells, screaming in their bullhorns and smacking on their clackers. In fact, that sentence would probably be more impactful if it were written in Dr. Seuss-speak. Let’s try again…

As I ran up the hill, hundreds of spectators ranged and clanged their double-flanged cowbell-thwackers, they smacked and clacked their yikkety-yackers while they screamed hip-happy hoorays into bullhorn-blasters. They drew me up that hill, pushing and pulling me faster and faster. And my heart grew three sizes that day.

And when I made the left hand turn at the top of the steep hill, only 2 miles from the finish, and I saw the line of thousands looking down on me, clapping and cheering and yelling my name… right then I knew.

I did it.
Tears welled in my eyes as I high-fived my way up the hill.
I did it, I said aloud. I did it.

And as I made the last right hand turn for the out-and-back, I saw Cat’s brother and nephew standing there, smiling at me, cheering for me. I did it. I ran up to them screaming as hard as my lungs could scream and slapped them high fives as hard as I could slap.

I did it!!

I picked up the pace even more as I headed out to the turn around. I reached into my back pockets and threw away all the miscellaneous foods I wouldn’t be using anymore… the extra gel packs, the endurolytes, the honey oat pretzels. Oh, those wonderful honey oat pretzels. I hit the 25 mile turnaround and started the final mile towards the finish line.

I did it.

I was desperately looking for Catherine. She must be right behind me, I thought. I want to share this with her. As I neared the final Aid Station, I didn’t see her. As I reached the crowds again, I still didn’t see her. Finally, as I ran down the slope towards the final turn into the Olympic Oval, I saw her on the other side of the street.

Cat! I yelled above the crowd. We did it! We did it!

I turned the corner towards the Olympic Oval and ran down the first straight away. I wanted to soak in the enthusiasm of the crowd, to feel them all. I wanted to share this feeling with everybody. I reached my arms out and floated on their energy. As I neared the end I looked in front of me and saw my father and step-mother straight ahead, cheering me on. I high-fived dad and took the final turn into the Olympic Oval and the cheering masses.

This is it.
I did it.

I didn’t want to forget this moment, the people, the energy, the sight and sounds of it all. I closed my eyes and ran.

As I came around the final turn I saw the finish line in front of me and all I could do was jump up and scream. And scream. And scream. And let out all of my pride, my pain, my fear and accomplishment. I wanted to scream loud enough that the entire world could hear me. I did it!

I DID IT!!!

I saw my mother and Catherine’s mother standing right in front of the crowds, about 20 meters from the finish line. I ran over and gave my mother a kiss. I did it, I said.

I did it.
I am an Ironman.


* * *

You’ve probably heard it all before ad nauseum, the philosophical ramblings of the inner-meaning of Ironman. That it is a test of who you really are. That crossing the finish line will change what you perceive to be life’s obstacles. That it is a metaphor for how you live your life. Honestly, I don’t know if I have experienced all of those feelings yet. They are sneaking into my consciousness, but not yet fully there. Perhaps in the weeks or months to come, I will look back on my first Ironman experience and regurgitate all sorts of drivel about the race’s parallels to the sufferings of humanity, until I find somebody who is actually comatose enough to listen to me. In the meantime, I’m happy to be proud. And I am extremely proud. I’m proud of what Catherine and I accomplished over the past 8 months. And I’m damn proud of what Catherine and I accomplished on July 23rd, 2006.

You can say that it took me thirteen hours twenty two minutes and forty six seconds to live my dream. But that wouldn’t be the truth. In reality, it took me thirty-nine years and seventeen weeks to make it all come true.

I am an Ironman. And whatever that may mean in the grand scheme of things, I don’t yet know. But I went the distance.

I am an Ironman and nobody can ever take that away from me.

“Oh Captain! My Captain! Our fearful trip is done.
Our ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won.”

29 comments:

stronger said...

Hands down...the BEST Ironman race recap I've read. Congrats Ironman (and Ironwoman). That was awesome.

Tri-John said...

Congratulations to both of you, what an amazing experience! Your Ironman recap was truly inspirational. This is what the sport is all about. You truly are an “IRONMAN”

Susan said...

Wow, I'm speechless. What an amazing post. Congratulations Ironpeoples.

Arcaner said...

Congratulations! I envy all you ironmen and ironwomen. Great detailed report. Makes me feel as if I was there to chear you on!

Mike said...

Thanks for sharing- that was an excellent recap!
Congrats Ironman!

langeca said...

Congratulations for the race! Awesome story, awesome report!

Anonymous said...

Your words made me laugh and cry. I was there watching the race - I must have seen you finish the swim because you were 40 seconds in front of my son. Happy to know Whitman's poem inspired you - but did you know that it was actualy written about death and that "My Captain" is a reference to God. Looking forward to reading more of your posts.

nancytoby said...

Fabulous, fabulous race report - one of the best I've read. Well done, Ironman!!!!

Spokane Al said...

Wow, what a terrific post. I agree with anonymous about laughing and crying. I ran the entire gamut of emotions. I am registered for IM CDA in June 2007 and will hopefully remember the lessons you provided.

Keep up the great writing - I will definitely be reading more of your stuff.

Cheryl said...

Congratulations to you and Catherine! What an amazing experience to share together! Thank you for sharing your truly inspiring story. I am training for my first sprint triathlon at 42 yrs old....who knows Ironman...someday! TRIgirl in VA

Andi said...

Congratulations to both of you! I am training with Cheryl and the other Trigirls who told me to read your blog. Through the tears and laughter it is inspirational and I hope I will remember it and the 3 palms on my last miles!

Also, being new to the Trigirls, I think you picked a perfert word to describe us - we are "moxie". Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic Race Report & the perfect time for me to read it.

Currently training for IM Lake Placid 2007. So glad I found this post!

j. said...

Glad you liked it, Samantha. Hopefully it'll help.

Lake Placid is an amazing race. You're gonna love it!

Alison said...

Wow! What a fantastic race recap. Very inspiring.

I'm training for IM Canada in August 2007 and I'll be rereading this when I get to those "Why am I doing this?" points in my training.

Anonymous said...

Laughing hysterically outloud - especially about the oat pretzels!!! Also, tears of joy for you & Catherine!!! I have completed 2 IM races - Panama City in 2004 & Wisconson a few months ago in 2006. One pre spinal surgery & one post spinal surgery! IM Lake Placid will be my next in 2008 - 7 months away! This is an awesome recap! Thanks for sharing & congratulations!
-Jenn

amy said...

we all face obstacles...but we also have the ability to overcome anything. Hey that guy at mile 20 was former NYC police officer Tommy Koehler...he wil be back in 08

amy said...

oops!!!!! the amputee runner was Ray Viscome a long time triathlete. however Tommy will be there in 08

Anonymous said...

Wow!!! I am left speechless! I live in Phx and am trainning for my first IM in November(Phx). I just read your blog and I am in tears! I am so motivated and touched by your story. Congratulations to you!

Anonymous said...

This is a bit odd to bring up but I just read this and was reminded of a report on IM Louisville 2007 from another blogger.

Parts seemed familiar, so I went back to her blog and re-read and it appears she's lifted entire segments from your report, word for word:

"The Louisville bike ride is deceptively challenging. It is a two-loop course that'll kill you on the second loop if you don't take it easy on the first loop. The first 20 miles are a triathlon racers wet dream, flat and fast, where you can pound forward pretty smoothly. Mile 24 is when the uphill fun really begins."

"It is mayhem, but mayhem in a good way. The energy elevates you."

"They say that an Ironman race is really about the run. More specifically, it's about the last 10 miles of the run. The swim and bike are just warm-ups for the marathon."

"You've probably heard it all before ad nauseum, the philosophical ramblings of the inner-meaning of Ironman. That it is a test of who you really are. That crossing the finish line will change what you perceive to be life's obstacles. That Ironman is a metaphor for how you live your life. Honestly, I don't know if I have experienced all of those feelings yet. They are sneaking into my consciousness, but not yet fully there. Perhaps in the weeks or months to come, I will look back on my first Ironman experience and regurgitate all sorts of drivel about the race's parallels to the sufferings of humanity, until I find somebody who is actually comatose enough to listen to me. In the meantime, I'm happy to be proud. And I am extremely proud. I'm proud of what I accomplished over the past 8 months. And I'm damn proud of what I accomplished on August 26th, 2007.

You can say that it took me sixteen hours fifteen minutes and eight seconds to live my dream. But that wouldn't be the truth. In reality, it took me twenty-six years to make it all come true."

- from http://140point6miles.blogspot.com/2007/08/race-report-ironman-louisville.html

Just thought you should know about this.

j. said...

Holy SHIT!!! Thanks for sharing. I just read her report and you're right, a complete rip-off, word for word, of mine.

My ego feels like contacting all the people who left comments on her blog saying "well written!" and "great race report", and telling them IT'S NOT HERS!! THAT WAS MY RACE!!!

What I don't understand is how somebody can write about their first Ironman experience by using another person's feelings....

I'm baffled.

J.

Chabus said...

WOW!!! I am in tears!! I am getting ready to do Lake Placid this July and I am freaked out but your blog has totally inspired me!!! Thanks for sharing all the details!!! I really really appreciated it!

Kim said...

so i just did a google search for ironman lake placid blog, and your website popped up. goosebumps, tears, chills... i had every emotion just READING your post. i cant wait to live this experience myself.

congratulations on a great race. what a fantastic race report. thank you.

Anonymous said...

Did you contact her? I see that her version of the race report is now taken down, but no explanation is given. I am so disappointed, I really liked her blog for its "honesty" but now am wondering what else was someone else's thoughts taken to fit the moment.

j. said...

Anonymous, thank you VERY much for the tip. I did contact her immediately after you first informed me of the plagiarism(which is why she took the race report down). Here's the bizarre story... Apparently she's had a "copywriter" write some of her blog posts (which in itself is kinda weird but that's another whole crate of chickens). Unfortunately the copywriter knows nothing about triathlon so in order to write the Ironman race report the copywriter decided to just take words from other people's experiences (again, the fact that either of them thought this would be ok is an entirely different conversation). there are so many bizarre elements to the entire story but it appears to be what actually happened - the copywriter was on our email exchanges and freely admitted to plagiarizing, but didn't seem to feel like there was anything wrong with it.

honestly, i was stunned after reading her race report because most of it was a direct copy of mine - word-for-word, paragraph-for-paragraph. I practically expected her to run up and kiss my girlfriend at the end of her race.

i suggested she take down the race report, contact everybody else who she "borrowed" words from to let them know and to apologize, and then put a post on her blog to let everybody else know what happened.

apparently she's re-writing her race report now in her own words. i'm not sure how many other posts the copywriter has penned - or if she's still writing for the blog at all.

the blogger has been very nice and responsive in our communication - though it doesn't make the whole thing any less baffling.

i can't thank you enough!

j.

Anonymous said...

Wow, that's bizarre but glad it all worked out okay in the end. By the way, YOU are a great writer and a great triathlete. Love reading your blog, keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

Thought you might find this of interest if you haven't seen already...

http://reversecowgirlblog.blogspot.com/2008/06/my-own-private-plagiarizer.html

Anonymous said...

There is no "copywriter".

CarolynS said...

Fantastic recap. I was up there cheering my husband on in the pouring rain. It was an experience of a lifetime. I think he's going to do the triathlon in Killington,VT 4wks before as a practice run. Piranha Sports is organizing. Good timing.

Anonymous said...

Hey -
I just signed up for Ironman 2010 and am so excited. I read this blog and totally teared. I can't wait to experience all of this..the joy, the pain....everything. I loved your inner dialogue as well!