Seems to me a few days ago I made some rather glib comments about comments on the local Panama City Beach news about "brave" athletes and the upcoming "grueling" event. I didn't make it clear that my glibness was somewhat tongue-in-cheek... exaggeration by way of understatement. I don't think I even fully realized.
I've said to so many people that my impression of my ChesapeakeMan iron-distance last year was that it wasn't nearly as hard as I'd expected. I've been riding on that for a year. I had gotten my head into a place that was practically passing off an Ironman as no big deal.
Now I know not to understate. Or underestimate. Or mistake a first-Iron fluke as representative of how I'll do at Ironman in general.
Swim: Whenever I turned my head to breathe, or lifted it to sight, there was a wall of water nearly as tall as I am coming at me. I guess I caught a good draft on the first loop, as it was a mind-boggling 40 minutes; by my second loop, everyone else must have already gotten where they were going, because it was 20 minutes longer. It was a fight all the way. I barfed a little running to the T-1 tent, and sat down and sobbed when I got there.
But I got the swim done.
Bike: At first it was fun. I was supposed to spin easy and this I did. I passed people. People passed me. Then we turned north and into the wind that had created the surf. Spinning easy was "easy" but slow. I passed people. People passed me. Turned out of the wind and then made some tracks but then onto a road that was, as Iron-pal Rich put it, "like riding across railroad tracks for 20 miles." There was stuff all over the road that had bounced out of people's pockets and off their bikes: aero-bottle plugs, a whole aero-bottle, loads of "caged" bottles, folded-up tubes and tires still in their rubber bands. I read in the paper that Hillary Biscay's handlebars got erratic due to a loosening of her stem bolt, and I'll bet this is where it happened. It was fun, though, fo ride briefly alongside people passing or being passed and complaining together about the road ("It could be worse, we could still be out there on that swim...") By the time the road smoothed out, we were in our last 30 miles when your shorts feel like they have a sandpaper chamois anyway, so it was still rough.
But I got the bike done.
Run: Stiffly jogged and walked the first mile, then started running, walking only through aid stations. That was going well. Early in the second loop of the 2-loop run, I picked up with a woman from Calgary doing her first IM and we went together. She was wonderful company. But by mile 17 I had been fighting nausea and fatigue for a while and couldn't start running again. I told her the pact between running partners is that you don't sacrifice your own race for each other, and I was going through a bad patch and needed to walk, and she went on. I walked. After a mile or two I was slowing even more but didn't feel any better. I felt worse. I took more sodium. I took calcium and magnesium. I took Pepcid. It was cold. I was freezing. I felt awful. I felt like I couldn't expand my chest to breathe. I was scared. I had seen an ambulance a couple miles back and wanted medical advice; maybe there would be one closer, up at the turnaround. There was not. I got a Mylar blanket at an aid station. It helped minimally. I sipped hot chicken broth but it turned my stomach. There were these huge generator-run floodlights every half-mile or so -- kind of wrecked the full-moon ambiance I had so looked forward to, but I discovered they put out HEAT and stopped at each one for 2 or 3 minutes, leaning my head on it for rest while it warmed my body. I kept plodding. Cold, exhausted, afraid of keeling over in the dark far from a medical station. I became aware of the thought that the ambulance, if I ever got there, would be my deciding point: do, or do not. I might not be able to finish this race. Finally arrived back at the ambulance. Told them I was in trouble. Got my blood pressure and pulse checked, everything normal; sat there for a few minutes, they weren't very helpful; they said there wasn't much they could do for me if I didn't need to go to the hospital. I didn't think I did, and started on again. I took it for granted that my first steps across the finish, if I got there, would be into the medical tent and then God only knew where. As I approached the next aid station, and the next, I knew this was where I would need to report leaving the course, but took their drinks and a little food and found myself walking on. I guess the little rest in the ambulance had helped though because after a while I started feeling better. I was able to do a brisk walk again but whenever I started jogging I could see it was out of the question. So I ended up walking the whole last 9 miles. But I could breathe, and with 3 miles to go I could SING. Can you imagine? Able to sing, but not run. I sang hymns. "Be swift, my soul, to answer Him, be jubilant, my feet, our God is marching on." "Take my feet and let them be swift and beautiful for thee." "Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home." I walked. But I could not run.
Got a second (or maybe third) wind with the finish in sight; pulled off my long-sleeved shirt to be wearing my red jersey in my finish photo. I had spent the last couple miles brushing my hair.... about a mile to brush it out (salt water, sweat, snarls from my ponytail band) and the next to maintain it (wind). People laughed at me but I wanted a hot finish picture, which witnessing friends tell me had to be a success, although we haven't seen the pic yet.
So I got the run done.
So I got the Ironman done.
Final time: 16:20. It wasn't my day to do a 14-something Ironman. But I feel more victorious with this finish than I now am with my less-painful, "that wasn't so hard" 14:58 at ChesapeakeMan.
Because the Ironman is grueling.
Last year it wasn't as hard as I thought it would be.
THIS was what I thought Ironman would be. Until last year gave me a swelled head.
I had the presence of mind to prissy myself up for my finish picture but not to notice that my HUSBAND was holding one end of my finish tape. I will forever regret that.
There's way more.... my wonderful friends who cheered and volunteered: Linae, Holly, and Shawn at volunteer posts; Kathy who hosted our pre-race get-together and worked in the medical tent; Dianne and Dawn who flew down from Calgary and surprised Nancy and me by showing up at the Expo. My husband Steve, who was out there every time I went by, and who worried as my expected return was half an hour late, then an hour, then an hour and a half, and longer. And held the finish tape for me, and I didn't even see him.
And Nancy, who has been so much of my inspiration as well as my companion, both virtually and in person, this whole year of training..... I watched for her constantly and was overjoyed every time I saw her on the course -- biking, running. Then when we met up as I was a mile or so into my second run lap and she was the same distance from finishing her first, she said she might not make it. I was pre-bonk and assumed she was going through a bad patch and would recover; at the time there were over 4 hours left and I called out, "Sure you can, walk!" But I didn't see Nancy anymore. I kept searching. I would have picked her out even in the dark because of her flashing red necklace. Unless she'd gone by while I was in the ambulance.... but I didn't see her and didn't see her and my heart sank as I began to understand that she must have decided to stop.
She left the course rather than risk the consequences of continuing toward what she had wanted so much. That, my friends, is bravery.
And yeah, people who undertake the Ironman are brave, because it's grueling.