Ironman CDA

Tl;dr: a few weeks ago, I completed my first Ironman. A lot of things have happened since then which has left not a lot of time for reflection, but plenty of time for recovery. I am so proud of this accomplishment, of learning new skills and completing the arduous training. And I couldn’t have done it without support of friends and family. You guys rock.

These people are the best

Last year, I ran two 100mile races. The training was brutal and tedious, and at the end of the second one, I was not just physically exhausted, but mentally and emotionally exhausted as well. I was tired of running and wanted to find something different – so I signed up for an Ironman.

Background

Ironman Couer D’Alene (still a challenge to spell) takes place in Idaho, in the northern part of the state. The closest airport is about thirty minutes west – Spokane. The area is beautiful. The lake is flat and surrounded by mountains, with a few little stretches of beach along the water. Forest everywhere. It feels like a beach town – happy locals, cute shops, great views, excellent places to eat – except nestled in the Rockies and trying to edge its way into Canada.

Bike course. You do this twice.

For those who don’t know, as I didn’t: an Ironman consists of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike, and a 26.2-mile (marathon-length) run. The most difficult part of this particular Ironman course is the bike portion. The 112-mile route is a 66-mile out and back, which you do twice, with something like 5,000 feet of climbing. In a run, this wouldn’t be so bad, but for a bike route, this is a lot of vertical. Of all the parts of the course, I thought this would be the most challenging. The Ironman organization also takes no prisoners when it comes to cutoff times – unlike trail races. In an Ironman, if you are three seconds past the cutoff time, they pull you from the course. I was very nervous that this would be me – if I didn’t finish, it was because I wasn’t fast enough on the bike.

This year – 2017 – was also a special year for this race – it was the last time that Couer D’Alene would host an Ironman. I’m not sure why they decided to discontinue this distance, but it’s been replaced by a half-Ironman a little earlier in the year. So, if it didn’t go well, there wouldn’t be a chance to come back and try this particular race again.

Training

My first triathlon was an Olympic-distance race a few years ago, for which I did absolutely no training and had a fantastic time. I was the only person without a wetsuit, and the guys with $10,000 bikes gave me side-eye for not having bike shoes that clipped into my bike. I knew that this approach – just winging it – wouldn’t work quite so well for an Ironman-distance.

As I started on my training journey, I quickly realized that there were a lot of excuses to spend money on this sport. Buy a wetsuit, buy a fancy bike, buy a fancy helmet, buy three GPS watches, buy a training plan, buy a coach, etc. I kept it to a minimum, although there were a few things I needed (wetsuit being one of them). Training plan, I decided, would not be one of them.

To figure out what I wanted to do for training, I did some Googling and inductive reasoning. Unlike running, which measures training in miles-per-week, I learned that triathletes typically measure their training in hours-per-week. So, it seemed it would make sense to distribute my hours-per-week across the three sports in roughly the same ratio as they would be in the final race, which is about 1:4:2 (swim:bike:run hours).

One of the things I’ve always wanted to do was to become a better swimmer. Despite growing up by the water, my swimming capability hasn’t been particularly impressive – I could move around, but not quickly or gracefully or with any particular speed. I wanted to use this opportunity to really learn how to swim. At the beginning, I wanted to over-index on the swim hours-per-week in order to really build this skill up.

I shopped around a bit for a good pool. What I was really looking for was something that fit with my work travel schedule. I found one at the YMCA nearby that worked well. The first few sessions I attended were pretty funny. The coach – an admirably patient guy named Mohammad – had a biting sense of humor that was perfect. The first day, when I got out of the pool, he said “You are really strong, but you can’t swim in a straight line.” Ouch. The next week he moved me into the slow lane and reconstructed my stroke from zero, teaching me the very basic building blocks. A few weeks after that, he gave me a few sprint drills to try, and at the end of that class, said “Let’s hold off on those for a while – when you speed up, you look like you are drowning.” So, I had a long way to go. However, with his help, and Amy’s over the summer, and lots of hours in the pool, I slowly built up a non-terrible stroke. My time in the YMCA pool with these guys became something I looked forward to every week. I’ve never gotten out of the pool and been anything except for happy.

Mike W, a family friend who has done this race several times, repeatedly warned me that the bike was the hardest part of this race, going as far as to recommend that I choose a different one as my first Ironman. This made me sit up a little straighter and think hard about my bike strategy. He recommended two things: 1) spend some time on indoor bikes, especially cycle classes, and 2) do a lot of hill training.

The indoor cycle classes were easy to find at my gyms. Typically, I’d spend two hours on the bike in the morning, twice a week – the first hour doing intervals by myself, and the second hour in a class. These were some rough mornings.

On weekends, I would take my bike out for longer rides, starting with about a 50-mile distance. Initially, these were terrifying rides. Here’s a not-exhaustive list of things I was afraid of happening to me while on my bike:

  • Getting hit by a car
  • Crashing with another cyclist
  • Hitting a pothole and falling off my bike
  • Going down a hill too quickly and falling off my bike
  • Going around a corner too quickly and falling off my bike
  • Stopping at a stop sign, not unclipping my shoes fast enough, and falling off my bike
  • Crossing train tracks at the wrong angle and getting my tire stuck in the tracks
  • Getting stopped by the police for breaking a rule I wasn’t aware I was breaking
  • Getting a flat tire and not knowing how to fix it
  • Getting lost
  • Being silently judged by other cyclists for my poor form / not expensive bike / slow pace / something else that I was too new to know about
  • Getting in the way of those same cyclists for not understanding the rules of the road

Needless to say, my anxiety levels during the first few rides were through the roof.

To tackle the hills, I picked a hard route for training. Will and I had to head down to San Jose a few times for wedding-related stuff, so for some long rides, I’d cycle down from San Francisco to meet him, taking the Skyline Boulevard route to get there. About 70 miles in length, it has about 5,200 feet of climbing – brutal any time, but especially in the summer. Also very good training.

After lots of miles on the bike for training, I can say I’m a lot more comfortable “in the saddle”. I haven’t fallen off my training bike (I did fall off my commuter beach cruiser a few weeks ago in a train track, which was embarrassing). Despite my improved capabilities in this sport, cycling still seems like an insanely risky activity. Unlike running, where I’ve always been able to zone out, I’ve never quite achieved that zen-calmness on a bike – there’s always a lurking fear in the back of my mind that something awful will happen, and I’ll go from fit to paralyzed in seconds. I know that’s unlikely, but I still can’t shake it.

Going into the race, I was still most anxious about the bike portion. Unlike trail runs, where the cutoff times are more like suggestions, if you’re even a few seconds late to an Ironman cutoff, they yank you. Given how hilly this course was and how weak my biking was, I was really not sure I’d make the cutoff for the bike. So I trained really hard for the bike section.

I spent the least amount of mind-share and time preparing for the run. My theory was that I knew how to run while exhausted – I’ve done that a lot – and my years of running training would carry me through this part of the race. I still did a lot of miles, but not in any structured way. Running was a filler between the other sports – something to do to relax and get me back to a place where I was comfortable.

Heading to Idaho

The lake where we do our swim (photo credit: Patti)

One of the coolest aspects of an Ironman, yet one of the least convenient, is the fact that, while an Ironman is technically a day-long event, the actual schedule of activities around it spans almost a week. Some of these things are optional, but several of them are mandatory.While the race wasn’t actually until Sunday, check in started on Thursday, with the last opportunity to check in on Friday evening (as I learned from a fellow competitor on Friday afternoon – thanks Pat M). So it’s a real event.

Vavilovians at CDA! Pat, me, Andrew, and Patti.

In a lot of ways, this race was a convergence of some of the coolest events I’ve had the opportunity to participate in. For example, if you remember the Antarctica trip, you’ll also remember that there were some pretty awesome people there, and some of us ran another race together in SF a few years ago. At this Ironman, Andrew (Antarctica Marathon 2015 winner) was also competing – he was a fantastic listening ear / empathizer during training, as this would be his first Ironman attempt as well. Patti, the infamous Vermont reporter and hands down the best race cheerleader, came with her decked-out motivational megaphone. Pat M, another Vavilovian / Colonia-9er from that trip, was racing this Ironman with her daughter – both of them are experienced Ironpeople.

Car magnet from Mike’s Badwater race – so cool to see this almost ten years later

 And, if you remember my first experience with ultrarunning – the Badwater race – that came back too. Mike W, who I crewed for that race, has done like 15 Ironmans – he gave me some great guidance and coaching leading up to this race. He also reminded me that his brother, Pat W, lives 15 minutes away from the CDA start line. Pat also crewed for Mike at Badwater, and we ran together at the SF Double Marathon last year. Probably against his better judgement, Pat W generously offered up his place to the four of us (Will, Patti, Andrew, and I) to crash for a few nights – we continue to be eternally grateful for his generosity. It was also cool to see some of the Badwater throwback memorabilia, still around almost ten years later.
So, even though the check-in requirements seem a bit absurd, the extra days do provide a really cool opportunity to hang out with people who are also there. Seeing everyone was one of the best parts of the weekend.

I would be remiss in not commenting on how insane the amount of prep work in the 48 hours leading up to the race was. A few things that we had to do:

  • Check in before Friday afternoon – pick up swag (including sweet backpacks) and wristbands (which we’d wear for the weekend), as well as drop bags

    A REALLY helpful volunteer at check in (photo credit: Patti)

  • Procure bike – various options here. I shipped mine using TriBikeTransport (thanks guys – super easy) so I wanted to make sure it had arrived in Idaho and wasn’t wrecked.  I laid eyes on it on Friday and then grabbed it on Saturday –
  • On Saturday, you had to put your bike in the transition area. For those counting, this meant you had to be at the Ironman village on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday – all three days
  • Also Saturday, you could drop off two of your drop bags (but not all four drop bags)
  • On Sunday before the race, you could drop off the other two drop bags. You also had to get marked up with sharpie – they wrote your race number and age on various appendages.

For comparison – at many trail ultras I’ve run, I’ve just shown up on the morning of the race, picked up my bib, and started running, sometimes having registered the day before. Definitely a different process.

In between these activities, we mostly ate food, explored the town, and watched Arrested Development. I was really doing anything to take my mind off of the race.

 Race morning

So. Much. Gear. (photo credit: Patti)

I tried to be as efficient as possible on race morning, for two reasons. First, more efficiency means more sleep. Second, more efficiency means less time to panic about the race.

I was really very anxious about not finishing this race. I was giving myself a 50/50 likelihood of having trained enough for the bike portion. To finish the bike portion within the cutoff, racers have to move at about 13.5 miles per hour. On flat road, this is not a challenge. However, this course, as mentioned was really hilly, and it would also be really hot. So, even with my weeks of spreadsheet tracking and calculating paces and projected finish times, I just wasn’t sure I’d make the bike cutoff. Of all of the races I’ve participated in, I’ve never DNFd (dropped out). There are a lot of races where, if I had, I’d be disappointed, but not crushed, because the race wasn’t that big of a deal. However, I’d trained for this Ironman for almost a year. I’d spent so much time and mental capacity in getting ready for it – I don’t know that I’ve ever been quite as emotionally invested in the outcome of a race. Even during my first 100-mile run, which featured torrential downpours and blisters the size of silver dollars, I never really doubted I would finish. For this Ironman, I knew that I could do the miles – just not that I could do them within the time limit. So, despite the training, I was pretty anxious.

Leading up to the race, I shared this anxiety with pretty much anybody who would listen. I got some good advice, and some not so good advice (not so good advice: “You should feel anxious. That won’t go away. Good luck.”)

Two pieces of great advice I got:

Andrew eats pizza for his pre-race meal (photo credit: Patti)

From Amy, one of my swimming coaches: “Remember to rely on your training, and when you get anxious just take a deep breath. I have seen you progress so much even in the last month – just relax into it and you’ll be fine.” This was so encouraging to hear from a coach, and it made me really understand why coaches can be such powerful motivators – they’re typically the only ones who have been with you every step of the way in training. Their opinion is better informed than almost anyone else’s.

Will and me at the start (photo credit: Patti)

From Will: He reminded me that this anxiety was exactly what I’d been looking for last year, when I was burnt out on running. Which is true – that’s why I signed up. I wanted something different – something that was a challenge, with ambiguity, that pushed me in different ways. In my panic, I had forgotten that was the primary reason I’d taken on this challenge. His reminder made me appreciate the anxiety, and feeling it in the moment, in a way that I otherwise wouldn’t have.

The morning of the race, I kept these things in mind as I went through the check-in steps.

Ironman Village is dark in the morning before the start, but the volunteers make up for it with their enthusiasm and flashlights. When we arrived, Andrew and I first for sharpie’d with our numbers, then went to check on our bikes, and we dropped off two of our drop bags. Then we went over towards the beach area to hang out for a few minutes, eat some breakfast food (which, in Andrew’s case, somehow involved an entire cold pizza), and get into our wetsuits.

At what seemed like an appropriate time, we said goodbye to our cheer team of Patti and Will and headed down to the sand.

We were self-seeded by projected swim finish time, so I comfortably positioned myself towards the back third, at the 1:40 mark. After the national anthem, sung in the pre-dawn light, the gun went off, and the race started.

The Swim

Getting ready to swim. Green hat = men, pink hat = women

My wave stood on the sand for another ten or fifteen minutes before we got close to the actual start line. The race sent us off in waves, with lots of space between them, so there was less likelihood of crowding and getting kicked in the race while in the water. That meant that we could see the fastest swimmers taking off down the course, away from the beach, towards the turnaround. The swim course was two loops, each just over a mile, with a little 10-meter run on the sand in between the two loops.

If you’re cool, you look like this guy when you get in the water. He was on the cover of the CDA local newspaper. (Photo credit: that newspaper’s photographer)

As we approached the start line (an inflatable arch), I mentally prepared for the cold water. When it was time to cross, I only started with a few other people – the start wasn’t that wide. I remember feeling excitement, apprehension, and relief that the moment was finally here, and ran into the water, doing the awkward leg-lift thing to get further out before getting down to swim. I did this as fast as possible, to minimize the total time that the body was shocked by the cold (having practiced in San Francisco’s freezer of the Bay).

The water was so warm. I’d spent most of my outdoor training hours in the San Francisco bay, which boasted water temperatures of 54*F in the winter and 62*F in the summer. This may seem like a small range, but on the colder days, spending more than 45 minutes in the water was really difficult; my fingers lost mobility during one swim due to the cold. So, this 70*F water in Idaho seemed luxurious by comparison.

 And I had officially started my first Ironman. The sky was still grey, but turning blue and orange as the sun got closer to breaking the horizon.

I’d also been warned that the water would be crowded, and getting kicked in the face was going to happen with high frequency. However, due to their phased entry process, it actually seemed fairly civilized. You could pretty much see where people were going, and there was never too big of a wall of people that it was hard to pass if you needed to.

Swimmers getting in the water (Andrew’s the one without a wetsuit) (photo credit: Patti)

The swim passed in a bit of a blur. A few things stood out – snapshots in time.

The first was the color of the water – this gold-green shade, but very very clear – you could see the sand at the bottom. A combination of the sun rising and the sand and the hills nearby combined to make this very fresh color.

The second was rounding the big marks at the end of the first loop. There was a big motorboat and a few kayaks, but because we were swimming, I could only catch glimpses of them during breaths. So it was mostly – water water water – part of a boat – water water water – another part of a boat. But there were people there, and they seemed pretty enthusiastic in their cheering.

 The third was getting to the end of the first loop … and realizing I’d swam a mile and a quarter in 40 minutes! That was significantly faster than I had ever anticipated, and I felt great. I didn’t feel like I’d over-exerted myself, and I had a good pace. This was a real boost to my mood. I got out of the water, did the little jog along the sand, and jumped in for my second lap.

Coming out of the water – looking like a happy blubbery seal

The fourth image I had was on the home stretch of the second lap. I felt really good, and very excited about my possible time. I was getting squished between a few folks though, and I didn’t want this to be a dumb reason to lose a few seconds, so I picked up the pace and passed them before they could converge in front of me.

 The last few hundred meters were more than a “jog” but less than a “sprint” in terms of prace, and I finished my swim in 1:23 – about a half hour faster than I had projected. I was really excited about this:
  • I’d worked really hard to learn this new skill, and it turns out I don’t suck at it! In fact, I’m pretty good, and much better than I thought I was.
  • I get an extra half an hour on the bike! At this point, I was pretty sure I could make the cutoff, because I’d finished the swim a full hour earlier than the swim cutoff, which means I could allocate that time to the bike.

The swim was probably my favorite part of the day.

Transition 1 (T1)

Best part of the day. (Photo credit: Patti)

This was easily the most absurd part of the day. Runners tend to be a pretty self-sufficient bunch, and usually at ultra aid stations that take a while, you might get your drop bag, unpack it, sit down for a minute, then get up and get some food, then put your bag away, and keep going. Volunteers at ultras are awesome – they sometimes fill up your water bottle for you! But other than that, it’s pretty self-service.

Going into T1 of the Ironman, I’d sort of anticipated it would be the same. I’d take off my wetsuit, get by drop bag and change, and be on my way.

Boy was I wrong.

I got out of the water and trotted to the transition area. It was loud, and there were easily 30-40 volunteers there. One of them unzipped my wetsuit as I trotted. Two more pulled my arms out, and then sort of gently/urgently made me sit down, so a fourth could pull my wetsuit off from my ankles. Four people helped me take off my wetsuit. And this was just the start.

Next, I picked up my drop bag and headed into the tent, where two women descended on me to help me with this part of the process. One of them took lead, and she hustled me over to a chair and dumped my bag of stuff on the ground (apparently this is best practice to make sure you haven’t missed anything). She brought over a few towels as I changed and as I put my bike shoes on, then I packed everything back in the back (with her help) and she basically pushed me out of the tent.

It wasn’t over yet though – there was an alley of volunteers to walk through, during which you could pick up water or electrolytes on your way to your bike. And at the end of this alley was another spate of volunteers, who directed you to your bike, in case you’d forgotten where it was in the forest of other bikes.

Then you got your bike and walked it out to the street. There was a line on the road (which several other volunteers policed / brought you over to), and at that line you could get on your bike to start the 112 miles that came next.

The Bike

I heard this is a cool thing to do during races because it makes it look like the activity is effortless. It was not. This photo is deceiving.

This was the part of the race I’d been most anxious about, and I wanted to start strong. I knew there was a lot of climbing coming up, so I made the most of the flat that I had at the beginning – a little out and back with some rolling hills along the lake. Of the two laps, I also knew the second would be significantly harder, as it was going to get very hot in the afternoon. So in addition to taking advantage of the flat parts at the beginning, I knew I wanted to use a little more energy on the first lap than I otherwise would have.

I don’t exactly know how many hills there were. It really depends on how you count them. I think there were two each way, for a total of eight – at least, that’s how I remember it. The first big climb on the way out didn’t seem so bad, probably because it was still fairly early and most of it was shaded, and the second wasn’t bad either. There was a flat / uphill-ish stretch towards the turnaround that felt much longer than it actually was, and that was pretty boring and frustrating. I did get to see Andrew after this turnaround – it’s always fun to see people you know!

This part of the day was also going to require some thinking regarding nutrition. I brought my Camelbak and stuffed it with water and PB&J sandwiches. To re-fill water, I assumed I’d have to stop, get off the bike, open my Camelbak, take out the water bladder, open the screw top thing, fill up the water, then reverse the process, which would take several minutes each time – which I wasn’t sure I had, but which needed to happen to prevent dehydration. However, during the first 30 or 40 miles, I’d noticed that nobody was stopping at aid stations. Instead, they’d slow down to 5-10 miles per hour, and a volunteer would be holding out their hand with a bottle of water or Gatorade in it, and they’d do a super quick handoff – the cyclist didn’t even need to stop.

Will took this picture of me and said he thought I’d like it because my stomach looks really tight. He’s right. (photo credit: Will)

I’d installed two water bottle holders on my bike a while ago, but I’d always been too afraid to use them because I thought I might fall off the bike. To get to them, you have to reach between your knees and down a bit. However, after watching a few aid stations like this, and seeing other cyclists doing it, I decided to give it a try – I slowed down to a crawl, held out my hand in the direction of a volunteer, made eye contact, and they handed off the Gatorade to me! It was magic! More liquid, and I’d probably saved five minutes of time. I nervously maneuvered it into one of the bottle holders – and didn’t fall off my bike! We were in business. I didn’t get off my bike for the entire 112 miles.

And it was lucky I’d committed to doing aid stations the “right” way – it got really hot, really quickly.

Near the beginning of the second lap, I saw Patti and Will cheering on the sidelines – always super motivating!

The second lap was much more difficult than the first. The scenery was now not novel, and the big out and back was just a freeway with yellow grass all around. The sun was beating down – no shade from the mountains. I was struggling up the hills. People with fancy-looking bikes kept passing me. That wasn’t super demoralizing – I’m a very slow cyclist and had tons of practice on the road with people passing me – but it wasn’t exactly the most motivating, either.

The other thing about biking is that sweat works differently than running, and that’s something I’d never really gotten used to during training. Because you’ve moving 3x as quickly on a bike as on your feet, water evaporates from your skin much faster, so using sweat to judge how much liquid to drink is not a good way to measure. That said, I knew I had to drink, so I just drank whenever my mouth was dry – which was basically every five minutes. I have no idea how many bottles of liquid I went through, but I will say that I did not have to get off the bike to use the bathroom any time during the 112 miles – so the answer is, probably not enough.

By this point, though, I knew I would make the bike cutoff if I didn’t do anything stupid. So I kept cruising and didn’t worry about the slow climbs.

Check out that sweet bottle of electrolytes in the bike cage! New skill that day.

I will say that it seemed like the bike course was pretty dangerous this year, however. Before the race, I’d looked up deaths during triathlon aces (a pretty dumb thing to look up …). About 87% (if I remember) of deaths are during the swim, and maybe 10% during the bike and 3% during the run. Something like that. However, during the bike event, I saw one guy get mauled by an off-leash dog – the dog literally came out of the bushes and charged the guy, knocking him off of his bike. The dog owner seemed apathetic. I stopped to help the guy out – he was literally right in front of me when it happened – until a volunteer showed up. One guy also got hit by a car between hills 1 and 2, and had to be taken away in an ambulance. I was lucky, given all that.

Overall – the bike was long and arduous. My butt hurt a lot, and my leg muscles were tired of the same motion over and over. My shoulders were cramped. I’d never spent so many miles on a bike before – 112 is my longest bike ride to date. I was so happy coming into the transition.

Transition 2 (T2)

As I got off the bike, the outside edges of both feet immediately started hurting – a lot – almost a bone pain. I’d never felt this before, and didn’t know what to do. I had no idea if I could run a marathon on feet that hurt like this. Worried, I put my bike back on its rack, picked up my bag, and hobbled to the aid station.

The volunteers were super nice, once again – helping me put away my bike gear and getting me ready for the run. But I was exhausted and moving slowly, and my feet felt like they had stress fractures in outside tarsal bones. I asked one of the volunteers if they had any Tylenol or Advil, and they said no, but then she sort of loudly said “I think I saw someone with some …” and another racer happened to have a few tablets. I was so grateful for the help. The volunteer winked and said she knew someone would have them. The other racer even assured me that this sort of racer-to-racer assistance was allowed (there’s a whole list of things that aren’t allowed, such as I think sharing food? Not sure what else).

After 20 minutes of transition time – far more than I’d wanted – and a can of soup, I stood up and hobbles out of the tent. A volunteer slathered some sunscreen on me and I headed towards the exit.

As I exited the transition area, I saw Will. I was pretty nervous about wrecking my probably-stress-fractured-feet, and I told him I wasn’t sure if this was a good idea. He said I should “run it off.” At the time I was like “oh okay, that makes sense, and because Will is saying it and he’s a runner, he probably knows how this works.” So off I went.

The run

Run run run

The run was three laps of just under 9 miles each. Each lap was an out-and-back, so we really only saw about 4.5 miles of new scenery – however, half of scenery was also included in part of the bike race – so really only about two miles of the course was new.

The first lap felt really good. I ran most of it, and Will was right – the pain in my feet went away (however if anyone knows what this is and how to prevent it, please let me know – it’s still a mystery to me). I was initially surprised at how tired my legs were because they hadn’t been running all day, but then also surprised because the feeling felt very familiar. Then I remembered I’d done this kind of thing before – running on tired legs – and this was sort of like being 50 miles into a 75 mile running race.

Still running

Framing it that way – running toward the end of an ultra – made it a much easier proposition. Legs were tired and would remain tired, walking was okay, and any forward motion was good.

Will was amazing during this part of the race. I swear he ran about 10 miles (not with me – that’s not allowed!) but taking shortcuts to different points of the course to say hi. He picked up Patti and Andrew at some point (Andrew had dropped due to heat exhaustion) and the three of them had MacGyver-ed Patti’s cheerleading bullhorn into a boombox by putting an iPhone playing music against the back of it. The three of them drove around blasting music and cheering people on with an energy that was nothing short of incredible.

During the last lap, I was getting a little grumpy at the repetition of the scenery, and I really just wanted to be done. It was also getting dark, so I’d had to break out the headlamp. People were handing out glowsticks too, which was fun. One runner and I had been playing leapfrog for a while, so we dropped into step with each other and ran/walked most of the last lap together. I saw Pat M a few times on the course – she powered right past me during the third loop.

As I came out of the last loop towards the finish line, with about a mile to go, I knew I could run the rest, so I parted ways with my running buddy and picked my pace up to a pained trot. Every step towards the finish line felt like a victory. I clearly remember the turnoff – where sidewalk chalk had indicated “turn left if you’re on your first or second lap, but turn right to finish” – and I was heading to the finish!

A local cheerleading squad was on the course at the finish line, and they’d divided themselves into pairs and trios to cheer the runners in. That’s when I knew I was really close.

I turned left and saw the arch at the finish. It was incredible – bright lights everywhere, and random spectators – a LOT of them – lining the finish chute. Who were these people who stayed out so late to cheer on strangers?

The sweetest part of running through the finish line was knowing I had done this myself – every step, every rotation of the pedal, and every stroke had been mine. I’d learned new skills and fought every step of the way to own them. But I also knew I’d had so much support from my friends and family, and from Will – there’s no way I could have gotten to the finish without them.

Finish line!

After the race

Immediately after the race there were some pictures and celebrations, and then we went home and I went to sleep. I remember, before going to bed, putting my wetsuit out on the railing to dry, and wondering when the next time I’d use it would be. It’s been two months, and it’s still dry.

The next morning, Will had to leave very early for the airport. Pat W and his wife came home, and it was great to catch up with them for a bit. Patti, Andrew, and I went down to the athlete village to see if I could reclaim a lost swimsuit, and after talking to six or seven people, I was able to find it. Andrew took off for a work thing, and Patti and I got brunch before she dropped me at the airport.

I’ve had lots of time to reflect on the race in the last few weeks. A few things really stand out:

I’m still young, but not as young as I was when I started running (more than ten years ago). Learning new things doesn’t happen every day when you’re an adult, and picking up a new skill from scratch is an insanely empowering experience. I am so proud of my swimming capabilities now – capabilities I didn’t have a year ago.

These people are the best

I understand why Ironman athletes are so grateful for the support of their friends and family. Three things about this come to mind.

  • The training is really demanding – more so than I’d ever thought. I’ve never trained so much for any race, even races that were almost twice as long in terms of hours spent on the course. I was sometimes spending 20 hours a week training. 4:30 wakeups are fun for nobody, and you have to have buy-in from the people you’re living with that it’s okay to spend time this way. Will was so supportive on this front, especially because his sleep schedule wasn’t really much better than mine was due to work (and usually worse). I am so lucky to have a guy who understands the crazy drive to do this sort of stupid stuff.

    I married this guy

  • I was new to this sport, and a lot of people gave me guidance and suggestions during training. I asked a LOT of questions about how to do this the right way, and a lot of people patiently entertained my ignorance. Thanks especially to Mike W and Christina for tolerating my really amateur questions.
  • It really does take a whole weekend – really more than a weekend – to do this thing. It shouldn’t, but the way they construct the checkins and surrounding stuff means that it does.
  • No pacing is allowed on the course. I’ve never done something this long without a pacer, and it’s really empowering. But the support crew is still there – just in a different capacity. Patti and Andrew, you guys are rock stars.

I understand what it means to take a break after a race now. The training for this was just so physically and emotionally draining. I’m working out now, but probably about half as much as I was before the race. I don’t have any immediate plans to sign up for anything (although I do have a different sport in mind for another race …) and I’m just enjoying the unstructured time. While I used to want to rush to the next thing, I’ve learned it’s okay to relax sometimes, and just appreciate and reflect the work you’ve done.

I got married a week after the race. I don’t recommend that – it’s hard to plan. But I did get to show off some muscles!

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