On July 28, 2002, in Lake Placid, NY, I realized a goal: I became an Ironman.|
The weather was partly overcast and very humid with thunderstorms predicted for the afternoon. I felt surprisingly calm at the start. I think that, given all the lead-up and training, I was just glad the race was finally here. Also, I told myself that this was, in a sense, just like all the other triathlons Iíve done: first you swim, then you bike and then you run. Anyway, after asking a few nearby swimmers what their expected swim time was, I decided that I was situated about right for my ability. Actually, it didnít matter since it was too late and too crowded to move!! The gun went off and I, and 1753 of my closest friends, all started swimming at once. Total chaos. I got hit and bumped from all sides. I also experienced breathing problems (asthma) the first half mile. Unfortunately, I am not an aggressive swimmer so each time I took a hit I stopped to regroup which made for a slowish swim. Early on I got hit hard on my right and left at the same time which unnerved me, enough so that I stopped with, apparently, a frightened look on my face, and a nearby man took the time to look me in the eye and utter calming words (which I needed). Actually, despite all the hits I took, I have to say this swim was less viscous than many shorter triathlon swims: I think every participant realizes that IM is along day and 10 seconds lost in the swim is no big deal. In any event, I exited the first lap in 40 minutes, slower than my ability but still in one piece and with my goggles intact. Lap two was much less chaotic than lap one as the swimmers had spread out. I was able to see the underwater line the entire time (no need to lift my head to site) plus I was able to draft several people. One scary moment occurred when I spotted a guy in a wetsuit lying on the bottom of the lake. Until he moved, and I saw his oxygen tanks, I thought someone had drowned and, it wasnít until the next day that I learned that there were numerous fire department divers under the course to rescue "sinkers" (love that term!!). I finished the swim and was surprised to see that my second lap was slower than my first. I guess I was getting a whole lot of drafting without trying on lap one.
Going from horizontal (swimming) to vertical (running) wasnít easy and I promptly fell on my butt trying to do it. Not graceful but not a disaster either. Exiting the water was one of my favorite parts because you encounter the wetsuit peelers. Lots of wonderful volunteers await the swimmers, pointing and directing you to lie down while they strip your wetsuit off, pull you back up and hand you your wetsuit: such service!! After grabbing your wetsuit, itís a ľ mile run, mostly downhill, to the transition bag racks and changing tents. Once in the changing tent, lots of volunteers are there to help you change clothes, put sunscreen on you, whatever you need. Since I didnít need to change clothes, I was out of the tent fairly quick and running toward my bike rack where another volunteer was already waiting with my bike, having taken it off the rack and brought to the aisle. A quick run down the aisle over the timing mat and onto the bike I went.
The bike is always my favorite part. I love the bike. This course starts in town, on a fairly steep downhill with lots of cheering supporters: what a high. Around mile 2 the rolling hills start. They arenít steep, just gradual inclines, but they go on for miles and really slow you down. Then around mile ten thereís a seven mile downhill section. I flew down that at 40 miles per hour. Some flats and small rollers follow for about 30 miles. The roads are smooth, the traffic almost non-existent and the scenery is beautiful Ė past streams, waterfalls, etc. It was in this section that the rain started. Around mile 35 the work begins. Thirty-five to forty-five is the "out and back" section and has bigger rollers. Also, in the out and back the rain stopped and the sun came out and it was hot. As soon as you finish the out and back the real work begins: eleven miles of uphill. This is where the rain started again. I amused myself by singing, out loud, "Here Comes the Sun." There are five named hills here (Little Cherry, Big Cherry, Mama Bear, Baby Bear and Papa Bear). Having never seen the course before race day I kept wondering if each hill I encountered was one of the named hills. Well, they werenít. Those unnamed hills are just a warm-up. After the five named hills, there are three more unnamed hills. I hit the half-way point in 3:45, slower than my training had indicated but feeling great. I stopped for my special needs bag which contained another bottle of Ensure Plus and a Snickers bar. I had been fantasizing about the Snickers bar for months. The half-way takes you through town and the cheering section. It really boosts your spirits. At the 57 mile mark I stopped to put on a long sleeve shirt since it was cool and rainy and I didnít want to freeze on the long downhill. It was then that I realized that I had forgotten to take the Snickers bar out of my special needs bag. Bummer.
When I hit the seven mile downhill on the second loop it was pouring and the wind had picked up considerably. There were rivers of water on the course. I started to fly again but when I hit 36 miles per hour I felt my wheels slipping and had to pump the brakes the remainder of the hill. Rats!! I needed to bank some time for what I was going to lose on the hills. The second loop was relatively uneventful except for the large unidentified buzzing insect that flew down my shirt in the out and back. There I am pedaling along trying to fish the bug out. Lord only knows what the bikers coming toward me were thinking when they saw me. Anyway, I thought I got Mr. Bug out but a mile or so later I started hearing a buzzing. It took me awhile but I finally realized that he was now caught in the back of my shirt. I had to stop and take my shirt off to get rid of him. My second trip through the hills was slower than the first and required a lot more singing. As slow as I was going, I felt very lucky because I saw quite a few people having physical or mechanical problems which would keep them from finishing.
Toward the end of the bike I started hammering Ė really cranking. I think I just wanted to get on with it. I had to chuckle to myself at this point because prior to the race I had said that I would rather do three loops of the bike if I could skip the run. After two loops of that course I realized how naÔve that statement was!! Anyway, I hopped off my bike, handed it to the volunteer, ran to the transition bag rack and ran with my bag to the changing tent where I took the time to change tri shorts: after peeing in them for 8 hours, a change was needed.
The rain had abated and the sun was out and it was HOT. The run starts with a steep one mile downhill in town. The cheering crowds egg you on and ego made me run hard Ė and I paid for it later in the form of bloody toes. Anyway, my legs felt really strong for the run which, frankly, surprised me. I probably ran 2/3 and walked 1/3 of the first loop. It was great to see my team members on the run and talk to fellow competitors. The highlights of the first loop were touching an Olympic gold medal (near the Olympic ski jump) for good luck and shaking hands with Lori Bowden (super pro who was there to cheer her mother on). At the end of the first loop you encounter that one mile steep downhill again but now itís a steep uphill Ė ouch. Just about the half-way point I hooked up with another runner, Bill, and we decided to stick together for the second loop. That was a very smart decision because while I may have felt like walking, with Bill there I felt compelled to run. Darkness fell during the second loop (16 mile mark, I believe) and I proudly carried my glo stick the remainder of the run. We alternated running and walking and watching the lightening in the distance. It started to sprinkle at mile 24 Ĺ and turned into a downpour with thunder and lightening at mile 25. I didnít care because I was having a blast and I was about to become an official Ironman. The final ľ mile defies description. You go down a ramp and enter the Olympic speedskating oval where thousands of people are screaming and cheering, the announcer calls out your name, hometown (and age) over the loudspeaker and it is pure joy, absolute magic. It was pouring rain and I was high-fiving people the whole way (and running faster than I had all day). It was an incredible high and I wanted that moment to last forever.
I feel truly blessed. I had no mechanical problems with my bike and my body did not rebel. Yes, I had a bit of bloating on the run (which went away after I drank a couple of cups of water, on the advise of a fellow runner, to dilute my stomach contents, allowing it to empty) and the last six miles of the run I knew the nail on the big toe of my right foot was bleeding badly and coming off but I was able to ignore it. Those are minor problems.
I had been told before the race that at some point in the race I would question why I was doing this and would have to battle with myself to continue. That never happened to me. I honestly felt good, mentally and physically, the entire day. I had the privilege of achieving a longtime goal: I AM AN IRONMAN. I canít wait to do it again.