The journey that ended with a title that will forever be mine: Ironman.
Business item first: The biggest thank you in the world to everyone who made this day possible. Thank you to the random Internet strangers who sent me well wishes. Thank you to my family for driving up and supporting me during the past few months, which have been harder on all of us than I could have ever foreseen. Thank you to my friends for waking up at an ungodly hour to yell at me and run with me and hold goofy signs. Thank you to the volunteers who saved my day more than once.
It takes a village to become an Ironman.
Backing up: Alyssa and I rolled out of our apartment at 5:30 a.m. and walked over to transition. I stood for a minute on Monona Terrace staring at the finish line, the capitol lit up in the background in the stillness that sharply contrasted the pandemonium that would ensue hours later. I was about to start the Ironman. I would be a different person at the end of the day, finish or not.
|Transition, early morning, $10 million in bikes, easy|
I felt the panic welling up worse than the churn of 3,000 people taking off in the same water
Every swimmer left, leaving me in the dust. I tried to hold onto my goggles and swim to the first buoy, but I couldn't grasp on.
The panic was surfacing.
I yelled for help, and the closest guard paddled over. I couldn't breathe and tried to get out of my wetsuit. I was beyond myself at that point. I tied my goggles back together and got them back on my face, but realized the anxiety was making me cough. This guard, whoever she may be, saved my day. She zipped my suit back up and followed me from the start to the first turn buoy. I would swim a bit, have to cough, grab onto her board and rest until I could go more. After that turn buoy, she asked if I would be OK, and told me I was going to finish if I just kept going.
So that's what I did - my breathing was so bad I had to breath off every stroke. I already had the pint glass, I had to do this damn race. How would I explain DNFing in the first 20 minutes? I've had enough failure in my life lately. I was not going to fail at this.
I did the backstroke when it got really bad, reasoning that at least I was moving forward and had a chance of making the cut off. When I emerged 1:40 later, I felt like I'd been through a war. I said in the days leading up to it that if I could make it through the swim, I'd finish the race. I never knew how true that was until I stood on the beach, throwing my goggles off in disgust, knowing that I could have swam 20 minutes faster if it wasn't for that meltdown.
I got my wetsuit stripped and made the long walk up the helix to transition. Side note: I tweeted Mike Reilly the pronunciation of my name. I did not train this long to have my name bumbled. And yet, it was not quite my name that I heard getting out of the water. Thanks, bro.
T1 was crazy - a volunteer handed me a bag, another volunteer dumped it out in front of a chair and helped me get out of my swim bottoms. I wore a tri top for the swim and bike, just swapping out the shorts. I was naked, then dressed again, faster than I ever thought possible. I stopped at the sunscreen tent and was slathered by a team of volunteers. I ran out to my bike in socks and sat on the ground next to my bike to put on my shoes, then off I went on the bike.
I had biked the course and knew what to expect - arduous uphills followed by terrifying downhills. The hills, often referred to as The Three Sisters or The Three Bitches, depending on your persuasion, did not disappoint. There were huge crowds leading up every hill and I saw friends along the way, which helped break up the day and boost my spirits.
You know what's surreal? Spending hours on a bike and thinking, holy crap, I am biking an Ironman. This is the moment I've imagined in quiet moments, been waiting for, working for, struggle for for years.
I stopped to use the port o potties twice, but my stomach stayed calm. I ate whatever appealed to me on the course - my nutrition has been absolute shit this summer, so I did what I could to keep moving forward.
Which is really hard with a flat tire. That's right, folks, broken goggles were not the only issue I faced Sunday. Some asshole, and I don't use that lightly, placed thousands of tacks at the top of the hill at mile 47. That hill ends in a long downhill punctuated by a sharp left turn. Which is nearly impossible to navigate with a flat front tire. This sophomoric move not only could have cost me my race, it could have cost me my life. So I hope this future parolee is happy with himself.
I sat on the side of the road and cried until the Trek truck came and changed my tire. It was the second time that day my day was saved by volunteers. It wasn't long, but I was more than a little concerned the time spent "resting" would make me miss the bike cut off.
When I made it to this hill:
I realized I had two+ hours to make it 25 miles. I could make it. Head down, power through.
I saw my family right before I made it up the helix and was exhilarated to see a friendly face. I ran into T2 to change, add fresh lube and hit the bathroom. I saw more friendly faces coming out of transition and got ready to become an Ironman. I knew I would make it - I had more than six hours to finish a marathon. What's a marathon when you've already been working out for hours upon hours?
|10ish miles into the run|
Let's talk a minute about these aid stations: holy food batman. There's Perform, water, flat cola, ice, cookies, chips, chomps, bars, bananas, oranges, grapes and Gus AT EVERY AID STATION. And there are 14 aid stations on the half-marathon loop. So much snackage.
My favorite part of the run was running on the Badgers field, twice. It was just surreal. Once the sun went down, I really enjoyed running in the dark, watching the lights catch the reflective materials off all of my fellow Ironman finishers-to be. I ran (see what I did there?) into more friends and it made the run go by pleasantly enough. I didn't need a single bathroom break and just kept chipping away mile after mile.
When I hit the square for the last time, I couldn't even process it all. I felt great. Not just OK or manageable. I felt awesome. I was about to become a fucking Ironman.
I saw my dad as I rounded the last corner and my mom on a bench nearby. I hit the finisher's shoot and distanced myself from the other athletes so I could enjoy the moment and hear my name announced (pronounced incorrectly, of course). I was astonished it wasn't even 10 p.m. Undertrained, overweight, not at all how I wanted to start the race. No matter. I was going to finish the race.
I hit the arch and knew I was a different person.
I heard it: YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!
Two volunteers grabbed me immediately and walked me over to get my medal, my hat and my shirt. They got me a chocolate milk, which I downed immediately. I got my photo taken and walked over to the barriers to talk to friends and Alyssa - that little speed demon finished so far ahead of me she could have been showered and resting comfortably before I came through. What a champ!
My dad helped me into my sweats and presented me with the carefully and hard-won beer my sister acquired earlier in the week. We all enjoyed a beer before my parents went on their merry way and I devoured a burger and beer. We circled back to the finish line just before midnight and watched some of the last Ironman finishers come through. That's when all the emotions really hit me. I did this. With time to spare. I could smile. I could walk. In fact, I could have dominated if it wasn't for my technical issues.
I cried a lot, then took myself back home and cried some more trying to walk up three flights of stairs to fling myself into bed.
I woke up anxious and went to bed victorious. I was sore but smiling knowing that I did, in fact, have an Ironbitch at my core.
Thank you, dear readers, for coming along this crazy ride with me. I'm typing this in my Ironman Finisher jacket, which it's not even cold enough to wear, but I don't give a damn. I will never ever forget Sept. 7, 2014. It's the day I found out that I am more than just the sum of my fears. There's more in here than bravado and stubbornness. Inside me is a reservoir of will and grit that I never knew existed.
Cost: $700, but who's counting now
Pros: A million volunteers, an established brand, they have this race down to a science, 75,000 people come to watch it, great course support and aid stations
Cons: The bike course is hilly, transitions are massive, this is expensive and training for 140.6 miles takes over your entire life
Would I do this race again? Yes