So when you last left your Ironmother heroine, she was headed out to the hills, hills, hills of Coeur d'Alene with her trusty steed, Lyle. I had 112 miles to ride, and I had three things on my mind:
1. Don't take the first loop too fast. A huge, common mistake many Ironpeople make, according to Bri, my coach.
2. Eat like a mother. I had to make up for some of the calories I burned on the swim, plus put some in the tank for the upcoming run, when I knew I would not feel super psyched to chow down.
3. Be mentally present in the mile I was in. I know it's hard to imagine 112 miles can whiz by, but they kind of can.
Especially when you're on a freakin' super highway with the Ironpeople. The bike course had two out and backs, which we did twice (so we went through town four times on the bike), which made for a lot whizzing. Bikes that went by me so fast, I could've sworn Lyle was a tricycle. Bikes coming in my direction, which I flew by as they were climbing. Bikes here, bikes there, bikes everywhere...and no cars! (Or very few cars.) It was a little two-wheeled whizzing utopia, which was just excellent. I truly loved every minute of it.
There were definitely some tough climbs—long, snake-like suckers that weren't crazy steep but were fairly long—and I wasn't sure how those would go down in the race. I am definitely a lemming when I'm on Lyle; although I'm a strong cyclist, I have a lot to learn about racing. So I was beyond relieved when, as soon as most athletes approached a tough hill, they sat up and put their bikes in an easy gear and just spun up. That didn't make the hills easy, but they were as easy as possible—and that was a load off my back.
Speaking of my back, the ol' spine wasn't the team player I hoped she'd be on race day. Even though I ran through a bunch of basic Pilates moves on Saturday on the hotel floor (ew!), I could tell she wasn't exactly aligned. During the first bike loop, which I mentally told myself was my recon loop—how will this feel when I come back and ride it harder in, say, a few hours?—my lower back was chatting. Loudly. I stayed in the mile—you can buy tons of discount fireworks on road we rode on; the volunteers were very facile at handing items off while we rolled by; I hope the Maryland Policewoman I chatted with for a bit had a good race—but worried a little bit about the body.
Bri told me to put ibuprofen in my special needs bags, which I got around mile 60, and I downed 4 of 'em. Amazingly, I hadn't taken Vitamin I during any training sessions (and I realize it's not a great idea for your kidneys to do so), but I knew I had enough food in my system to be ok. (And never fear: I've taken plenty of them after workouts.) I'm not sure if they helped or not, but I believe in the placebo effect.
Lyle and I rolled. Up hills, down hills. To one turnaround, to another, and back again. I came close to getting a four-minute penalty for drafting (riding too close to another rider) and played a part in somebody else getting one. (I felt very bad about that, and apologized to her a couple of times.) I feasted: 1.5 PB+J's, 2 Bonk Breaker bars, 6 GUs, 1s, 1 bottle of Kona Cola Nuun, 4 bottles Powerbar Perform, the more caloric sports drinks served on the course, 1 bottle of water, which I so wished I had a Nuun tablet to drop into...poor planning, lady, really poor planning.
Despite my all-day buffet mentality, I didn't have to use the bathroom during the bike portion. Apparently those around me weren't as lucky. One woman, wearing a pink and black kit, flew by me. I gave her the required four bike lengths the passee needs to heed to the passer to not get penalized, but that apparently wasn't enough room for me not to get caught in her urine stream. I give her serious badass props for peeing on the bike, but was a little disgusted she didn't even give a head's up. I quickly got over it—I was a sticky, sweaty mess anyway—and was happy to realize my misplaced air snots were nothing in the karmic world of Ironman offspray. (And truth be told, 85% of my air snots landed on my shoulder. Like I said, I was a mess.)
About six hours into it, I had a small incident with a cyclist behind me; he was trying to pass me, while I was trying to pass somebody else and the we were in lane was marked narrowly with cones. "On your left! Get out of the way!" he yelled at me. Not cool. "I'm doing my best!," I answered, and I think then he saw the other cyclist to my left, because he shut up. I could feel him behind me as we went into a no-passing zone—there were 3 short ones on the course—and when we got out of there, he sped off. Good riddance. He was the exception, not the rule, on the course: everybody was super encouraging when we did talk. It was quiet most of the time, but all interactions, minus that one, were totally positive.
I got back to transition and had to face reality: 26.2 miles by foot. "Who wants to run the marathon for me?" I asked a group of volunteers as I headed into the changing tent. They laughed, so I pulled that joke out again a few minutes later as I headed out to get part III done. I decided to change from head to toe to feel a little less gross, and to represent our badass mother runner tribe.
But wow. I was not in the mood to represent. My chatting back turned to temper tantrum, complete with the sensation of a red hot fire poker right in the base of my spine. This was discouraging for a copule of reasons:
1. I need my back to cooperate to run a marathon.
2. I had heard that the first running miles off the bike were usually fast, and that you had to really concentrate and slow down. Um, not so much for me.
3. Because of my speedy swim and bike, I was around really strong athletes. The ones that do have to reign their 7:15 splits into, say, 8:15's. Even if I could've been running carefree, I would've still beeen getting smoked. Which doesn't feel good at any time, let alone when you're struggling.
I was just concrete. I kept to my four minutes of running/1 minute of walking for a few miles, but gave myself grace periods during the aid stations and if I I really wanted to quit anytime after I ran for 3 minutes, 30 seconds. I could tell the crowd had no idea what to do with me: I was running relatively slowly to begin with, and then I'd randomly walk. They'd cheer the athletes around me on, and then dead silence as I—wearing a badass mother runner tank—snailed by. Ugh.
I kept my view between the top of my hat and the road in front of me for a while and pretended my whole body wasn't painfully ricocheting with every step. I was moving forward. I was running a marathon. I was doing an Ironman. I was ok, but not really. I knew a valley had to come eventually—my day so far had been a mile-high peak—but I didn't think it would be so dark and seemingly debilitating.
I stopped and did this squatting/stretching/hanging thing on a cement barrier—I just wanted to decompress my back, and hanging upside down wasn't an option—and as I was contorting myself, two men ran by.
"You ok, young lady?" asked an older man, probably in his 50's.
"Yep," I answered, holding back tears, "I just need to stretch my back."
"You're in a rough patch," he said, "Don't worry: it'll turn around. It really will."
"Do you want to do a slow jog with us?" asked his pal.
"No thanks," I answered. I wanted to be by myself, with no pressure to jog, slow or not.
"Keep with it, young lady," he said, "It's going to pass."
That's exactly what I needed to hear. Thank you, (not) old man from a (not) young lady. And around mile 6, I saw exactly what I needed to see up ahead: lots of triathletes walking up a steeply graded hill. My lemming personality rejoiced: They're walking, so it's okay if I do too! I powerwalked up the hill, ran down the backside, hit the U-turn—the run course was two laps as well—and powerwalked back up it. My Garmin gave me my splits every mile, and when I saw that mile in the 11:xx, I knew I was going to be ok. My strained running in the previous miles had netted me high 10:xx splits.
If I could quickly walk with determination, a skill I have honed for many, many years, and run a few minutes of every mile, I could stay in the 11:xx's. Good enough, I told myself. My 4/1 pattern had gone out the window, but I really didn't care. My basic strategy was to walk the uphills, run the downhills, and play the flats by ear. (Or usually set a very doable goal on the flats: that tree, until that runner passes me, when I get to the aid station, etc.)
I knew, though, that I couldn't let all my plans to go waste. I forced myself to take in some calories at every aid station: usually the sports drink they had, as it was ice cold and the orange mango sat right with my taste buds. Potato chips, soda, and oranges were not good calls.
I saw Grant and Bri, my coach, as I ran back into town. "I'm coming to talk to you after I go around," I yelled at them. I hung a U-turn, then went to go find them again. At that point, my back had loosened up, but the running ricocheting feeling wasn't going away. BOOM, BOOM, BOOM with each step, even though I told myself to be quick, light, quick, light. I felt like the Jolly Green Giant. "You're not going to be happy when I download my Garmin," I said to Bri, in that melodramatic way most can get when they've been in motion for 9+ hours, "I am walking SO.MUCH." The pair of them would have none of my complaining—and gave me compliments and cheers. On I went.
I saw Kari, a local mother runner, twice. She was beyond enthusiastic for me. "I'm walking like a mother," I told her. "You're getting it done," she replied. She was right.
Early in the second lap, I stopped in a port-a-potty: not because I had to go, but because I just needed a short break from all this forward motion. I needed a minute to be still. I sat on the pot and when I emerged, my mood lifted considerably. I welcomed the comments about my tank. "Damn straight," I'd said, "Badass all the way." I cheered on other runners who looked receptive to some encouragement. I saw my pal Karri and S.J., and ran over to them. "You guys are so freakin' awesome!" I yelled as I grabbed their hands. I saw Swim Bike Mom and heckled her accordingly. I realized I was wearing my race belt as a Glamour magazine "Don't" and fixed that. I chatted with a few runners, but most people were putting all the energy they had into going forward.
I got to the 23 mile mark, and had a moment. About a 5K left. One, measly, tiny chunk of 3.2 miles left of this whole journey: 8 months of ridiculously early mornings, staring at a black line and smelling like chlorine for the day, countless miles pedaling into a headwind, a gazillion loops of my neighborhood on foot, so much sweat and effort and time, and I'm going to be done in about 33 minutes? I'd better walk then. I wasn't sure I was ready for it to be done.
But the end came, and Sherman Avenue, the main drag in town, did not disappoint: so much happiness and noise.
I hadn't thought too much about the finish line chute, other than I wanted to soak it in. I should've given a little bit more space to this woman, whose finish line pics I photobombed (sorry!).
So then I cut over to another lane to get out of her way.
And a note to anybody who does an Ironman in the future: after you cross the finish line is when they get a good pic of you. (I'd take my own tip, but I'm not doing this again.)
And then it was done. I finished in 12:16:16, which was a perfect 16th in my age group. I'll happily bottle that one up. Wouldn't change a thing, minus those 26.2 at the end. Kinda brutal.
Anyway, a volunteer meets you after the finish line and takes you over to get your picture taken.
Then the volunteer hands you off to another volunteer, and you talk to a medic about how you're feeling (um, awesome: I just became an Ironmother!) and if all is good, you get to go chug some lowfat chocolate milk (I had two bottles), grab a piece of pizza (could only eat half), and drink a generic Sprite (took me a very long time to finish). Grant grabbed my bike and my gear while Bri, who had a 6 am flight the next morning, discussed the race. Or really, I spewed and spewed stories and thoughts, and she listened and laughed.
I finished around 7 p.m., and entertained thoughts of coming back down to the finish line to welcome in the final Ironpeople at midnight, but as soon as I laid down post ice-bath and shower, those thoughts vanished. I did my best to get down the chocolate shake I sent Grant out for—I know, tough problem, right?—and kept drinking nuun-filled water.
And then the longest, fastest day of my life was really done. Thank you for for pushing me along, for cheering me on, for keeping me honest, and for just listening and reading. It wasn't just the longest, fastest day of my life; it was one of the best, and I loved sharing it with each of you.
p.s. Want the audio version of this? Listen to a podcast about the race on your next run.