Ironman USA - Lake Placid, NY|
July 27, 2003
210,034 yards of swimming, 2,617 miles of biking, 598 miles of running, (weíll get to that later) one case of mononucleosis, one debilitating knee injury, 2 cortisone shots...my first Ironman Triathlon.
If someone were to ask me, even now, if I thought it was all worth it, Iím not sure how Iíd answer. The road of this experience...to that moment, to that day, became a much longer and deeper journey than Iíd ever imagined. Along the road, Iíve learned a bit about humility, patience, honesty and above all, acceptance. Iíve come to know my own body in ways I never imagined. In essence, my Ironman experience has brought me a deeper understanding of myself...both mentally and physically. A seasoned Ironman competitor and teammate once told me, "In every Ironman there will always be something that causes you to dig deeper than youíd ever imagined you could." I didnít know until I began training for this race just how right she was.
I decided to sign up for Ironman USA Lake Placid not on a whim, but because ever since I started doing triathlon in September 2000, I always said Iíd do an Ironman in 2003. Even when I couldnít yet swim to the other side of a 25 yard pool, when I needed my third chain ring to labor up the smallest of inclines, when a 3 mile run felt like a pilgrimage up to Base Camp at Mt. Everest, I knew I would make it my goal to do an Ironman. However, I would be lying if I said I am a person who does everything I set out to do. Mine is not some miracle story of determination in the face of all adversity. Iím just a person who quite surprisingly, discovered an unparalleled drive and a determination within myselfÖto do something my friends, family and doctors all said I was crazy to attempt.
I spent what felt like a lot of time working on my swim over the past three years, often with the same results; fatigue, exhaustion, frustration. I came to a point in the winter of this year when I realized the swim for me was not going to be about attempting to go fast, but rather about trying to relax and more importantly, survive to actually see my bike.
The first few minutes before the start of the race were markedly different than anything Iíd ever experienced. Like a high school play for which youíve rehearsed months, when the curtain finally goes up, all your nerves seem to subside and it all goes by so fast, you forget to savor the moment. Before I knew it, the gun went off, and miraculously, I was calm. Even before the smallest of sprint triathlons, I am always terrified of the swim, always asking myself "Why do I do this?" I always just wish I could somehow skip the swim. But this day was totally different. I was actually composed. Maybe my Training Log entry on June 22nd after a particularly exhausting swim in Walden Pond proved an omen, "Awful swim at Walden. Hoping for a miracle on July 27th." I forced myself to stay as relaxed as possible throughout the swim. And for the first time, it worked. In the last few meters before I exited the water, I thought to myself, "For all the yards I swam, for all the times I got out of the pool thinking, I canít do this! I donít have it in me!...this moment certainly is worth it."
Once out on the bike, I thought I could relax a bit. One of the few advantages of swimming as slowly as I do is that I can actually pass people on the bike. Although I was passing folks, (most of them old and without clipless pedals of course) my stomach began to tighten. Soon after, the nausea set in. Anyone who has ever trained with me knows that Iíve never had a problem with my stomach, never struggled with eating solid food. My Snickers bars at mile 80 of long bike rides are famous. Despite all the sickness I experienced on the bike, I managed to make it through the ride; although my time was over half an hour slower than what I knew I was comfortably capable of. No matter, I was proud because I never panicked, never got frustrated, never asked myself "Why is happening? How on earth am I going to get through this thing?" I just knew I would do it. I knew it.
Iíve heard many people say that when they get off the bike in an Ironman, they are actually looking forward to finally running, and they hand their bike over to the volunteer, barking "I never want to see this thing again!" Imagine how it feels to get off the bike knowing you canít run at all? Needless to say, I wished I could hang on to the bike for a little longer. I managed to actually run out of transition, knee brace as tight as it would go, loaded up on Advil, Motrin, Tylenol...anything that would get my knee through the next 26.2 miles. I managed to run about 30 steps down the hill out of town, and suddenly, the knee injury that had caused me so much torment over the past few months once again sounded a resounding, "No!" The knee had simply locked up. My stomach had recovered, legs felt fresh, but the knee had given in to the distance. Thankfully, my mind had not. I then made the decision to walk as fast as I could. Somehow I was able to power walk, in a manageable amount of pain. I couldnít believe how fast I was walking. Nearing the end of the run, I realized Iíd been walking under 14 minute miles; Incredible for a girl who would rather drive than walk to the local bar on a Friday night.
Since successfully crossing the finish line, Iíve had some time to reflect on the event. When sharing with me his own Ironman tale, an old friend once told me, "for as hard a day as the Ironman will be, it will be more fun than anything you could ever imagine in your wildest dreams." Iíd have to say the day was certainly different than what Iíd imagined it would be. It went by faster and took less out of me than much shorter races Iíve done, in much more favorable conditions. In actuality, July 27, 2003 wasnít really a culmination of the year Iíd spent training, but rather a statement...not so much on what the body can do, but on what the mind can overcome and the heart can endure.