As the sun started to set, it was becoming clear that I would be running for a few more hours in the darkness. Once it was black, a strange feeling came over me, one of fatigue and loneliness but also of comfort as well. You see, I was not alone. There were hundreds of others running with me. Some were passing and looking strong, while I passed some as they walked only to be passed by them when I walked. A feeling of belonging – soon we would all hear those famous words as we crossed the finish line – YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!!
The day started by getting up at 4:30am, I had set the alarm but did not need it. I slept great until 1:30am then I was restless till 4:30. I got up drank some water then headed out the door for an easy 1.5 mile run. After the run, some light stretching and breakfast. Guess what I ate – a bagel with peanut butter! After a quick shower (don’t ask me why) we were off!
I have completed three Half Ironmans and when you arrive on race morning it is always the same – go to your bike, check your tire pressure then put on your wetsuit then find the family until your swim wave goes off. Well for an Ironman, it is a little bit different! Once Steph and I arrived, we made our way to the transition area and that was the last I saw of her…well sort of! With a good luck kiss, I was off to do what I came for.
With almost 3,000 racers and an in water start, I was very intimidated at first. My strategy for the swim, start towards the front and to the right and let the fast swimmers pull me along! Well it sort of worked for a while. I remember people climbing over me, getting scratched in the face, kicked in the ribs and hit in the face. Just a normal swim for an Ironman! The water was a balmy 61! It reminded me of the old days back on Lake Umbagog, the only difference, if the water was that cold Keith and I were wearing drysuits!
The hardest part of swimming 2.4 miles, well other than swimming 2.4 miles, is trying to stay focused. You see, swimming that far and that long, it gets really, really, really boring! I would do things like count my strokes but once I got around 100, I would lose count and start all over again. Then it seems I have ADD and my mind wanders to stuff I need to do around the house – hang Christmas lights, get the snow blower out, get ready for Thanksgiving. Then WAP I get hit somehow and my attention is quickly refocused.
I was expecting my swim to be about 1.5 hours and I did it 1 hour and 29 minutes – coming out of the water I felt good. Swim Smooth!
Once on the road, my heart rate was racing, around 160bpm. My plan was to keep my heart rate between 130 and 140. 160 was not good but no matter how slow I went it was not coming down. So I did what any competitive person would, I ignored it! After about 15 minutes, I finally settled down and my heart rate dropped into the 130′s. The bike course was three loops of an out and back course. The out was a long gradual climbing hill which meant the back was a long gradual downhill. My strength and love is the bike and this course was just begging me to start pushing! I wanted to so bad, but I couldn’t – I needed to save something for my run. So I was played it safe and just let people pass me, knowing that I was not racing them but racing myself and looking to reach my goal.
Riding a bike for 112 miles is pretty interesting. One think your bottom would get sore, well my neck was instead, which I would rather have than my bottom!
Stating the 3rd loop and feeling good!
The only trouble I was having on the bike is I had to pee all the time! As you can see from the pic above, the idea is to stay in an aerodynamic position to make it easier – well try doing that with a full bladder! On the last loop, I had to pee three times! While this was frustrating it was great news – it meant my hydration was really, really good. In the past I have had issues with cramping on the run due to poor hydration on the bike.
I really happy as I stayed within my limits, well except once. I saw someone pass me that I remember from the Colorado Springs triathlon club I belonged to. After a lengthy conversation with myself deciding whether or not I should push to chase her down and chat, I decided that 5 or 10 minutes wouldn’t hurt. So the chase was on and what fun it was! It only took a couple of minutes and it was nice to have a little chat. She was the president of the Pikes Peak Triathlon Club when we lived there and she rides for Team in Training which raises funds for leukemia. After a nice chat, I dropped back to my targeted range and finished the bike feeling really good! Bike Smart!
Ah the run…my favorite event – NOT! I was worried as to how my legs would feel or if I would cramp or what it feels like to run a marathon. My plan on the bike had paid off, my legs felt great and I was ready to finish! My strategy for the run was to run for 5 minutes and walk for 1. This would save me and keep me fresh to allow me to finish strong. I actually got this from a guy on the shuttle bus from the airport to the rental car. This will be his 11th Ironman so I figured he knew a thing or two. I was planning on running 1 mile then walking a minute but his plan sounded better!
Running has never come easy for me, but I get by. My longest run up to this race was only 15 miles. The greatest thing about this race is how often you see the fans. There is so much support from spectators, that you really do feed of it! I got to see Steph’s smiling face and hear words of encouragement all through the run!
Feeling strong on the run!
Every time I would run by, she would run up to me and pat me on the back, and it would hurt! She would later laugh that she was not hitting me hard at all! I was tired at that point! There were times where I just wanted to stop and sit on one of the nice benches that were all along side the run course. I didn’t want to give up, I never doubted I was going to finish, I just wanted to rest, take my shoes off and sit for a bit. Thankfully, I didn’t. I never would have started again!
As the miles went by, I was lucky enough to talk with many people. On my second loop of three, I caught up to a guy as we were both walking up the only real hill. We started talking in the darkness, sharing how we got there and why we are there. Turns out, his dad and brother were racing too! This was his 3rd Ironman and he was hurting, but he only had 3 miles to go and off he went! On the final lap I caught another guy and this one I stayed with for about 5 miles. He is in the Army and doing his second Ironman. He was deployed for the past year so all he could was run to train. He was clearly tired but determined to finish. His pace was slower than me but having someone to talk with in the darkness makes all the difference in the world! With four miles to go, I wished him well and was off. My soft goal was to break 14 hours and with 4 to go, I needed to go! I found a burst of energy and started running for 2 miles then I would walk for 2 minutes. I finished my last mile with my fastest mile!
Then I approached it – the finishers chute! I would see the sign on each lap, Finishers left, others right. I made the left and I was smiling from ear to ear! Then you made one final left hand corner and you see it – the bleachers on either side full of people and all the lights and the clock. I could see 13:50! I was going to make it! Then I spotted my wife in the crowd as I crossed the finish line! Run Strong!
What a day and what an event! I am so very lucky to have the support of my family, my wife, my kids, my parents, to have the means to do this, and to be able to do this, it truly is an honor and privilege!
It was a great day! Long, challenging and very rewarding! Looking back at my performance and times, I do ask myself if I could have gone faster or pushed harder, maybe I just may find out someday….