Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Chapter 5: And Miles-- 26.2 miles actually--to Go Before I Sleep

What I never, in 10 months of training, understood; despite many trying to explain it to me; (and you probably aren't going to understand it now); is that Nothing Matters In An Ironman Until You Get Off The Bike. And, hopefully, start to run.

I pulled into T2 feeling pretty good. I'd enjoyed my bike ride (except for the lack of water at one of the water stops) and was fairly proud of my time (even though I'd hoped to go under 8 hours on the bike). I disengaged myself from my pedals and dismounted. I offered the volunteer the opportunity to sell my bike for me (probably the 20th time he'd received that offer) and walked slowly towards my run gear bag. The concept of an aquabike (just the swim and the bike) was looking really, really good. . . No one was running to those bags-- there was simply no way I was going to risk running, in my bike shoes, after 8 hours on the bike. Just wasn't going to happen.

I got my run gear bag from the volunteer-- did I ever mention that there were 3000 volunteers that worked on Sunday to manage the 2500 racers-- and headed into the changing tent. Most of the seats were taken. Except for the seat right next to the giant 4X4 fan. OH MY GOODNESS. Sitting Down Next To That Fan Was Heaven. And a huge mistake. I sat down and ripped open my gear bag (no struggling with cords this time-- I went right to the chase). Spilling my run clothes onto the floor, I accepted a gatoraid from a volunteer and started to work.

First off-- the bike shoes-- Oh the sweet relief. 8 hours of spilling water down into my shoes as I tried to keep cool-- those dogs were happy to be peeled out of my socks. First on-- the new pair of toe socks. Way easier said than done.

Second off-- the bike shorts-- YUCK. White sweat encrusted nasty pants replaced with super cool blue running shorts.

Finally, it was time for the shirt change. I stripped off my soaking wet, sweat encrusted tri-top and put on my trusty Worcester Academy Tank Top. You know, the one I've had since 1990. It just celebrated its 20th year of racing. (Yes, I could probably use another one-- I wonder if I know anyone who works at Worcester Academy).

I sipped my Gatoraid-- I chugged down some electrolytes and some pretzels. I used the potty-- twice. And finally it was time to head back out of the tent and onto the run. It was about 4:15 pm; I'd been on the go since 7 and had 26.2 miles to go before the day was over.

(as an aside, as soon as my transition time was published on the website-- my next door neighbor, running partner, and friend extraordinaire came running up to my mother-- "14 minutes in T2," she said-- "that is PATHETIC"-- little did she know that there was a woman who spent 42 minutes in T2).

Getting started was the single hardest part of the entire experience. It was so hard to get moving. The course started with a brutal out and back over the bridge-- or, more specifically, 1/2 way across the bridge. I WAS NOT FEELING IT. I saw Merla-- our team manager there to cheer me on and I tried to get the run started. My run pace, at this point, however, was slower than my walking pace. I tried to run my 5 minutes-- so I could walk my 1 minute but found that it wasn't going to work. I couldn't make the first 5 minutes. So I made a deal with myself-- I said I'd try my best to make it through 2 walk cycles. If I made it through that-- I would be able to walk if I still wanted to. . . 12 minutes later-- I still wanted to walk so I did. I found myself walking pretty quickly (15 minute miles) but for some reason walking was what I was comfortable doing.

It was on the bridge that I met my friend the sponge. Water stops in an Iron Man marathon are like a small grocery store. There are (in this order): sponges---water---gatoraid---coke---chicken broth---pretzels---cookies---fruit---powergel products---gatoraid---water--sponges. At mile 2 (still carrying my own shot blocks for energy) I took 2 ice cold sponges and a water. Those sponges were heaven. They doused my body in cold water. Then they scrubbed the salty/sticky gunk from my face. To keep myself cool I shoved one under each strap of my tank top. HEAVEN ON EARTH. I made it over the bridge and back through town where I started the lonely out and back past the University of Louisville.

Lonely is the only word to describe it for me. It was long. It was, despite the multitude of people out there walking, running, and shuffling along with me, a very quiet experience. Unlike the stand alone marathons I've run, where us middle to back of the packers tend to chat and enjoy our camaraderie, here people had hunkered down into themselves. Those of us on the first loop weren't feeling like sharing-- and those on the second loop-- well, they were looped. Or so happy to be almost done that I didn't want to talk to them.

At some point, I found my energy and started to run again. I'm not even sure where on the course I was-- or what kind of magic moment I had, but I found myself able to run again. It was still slow-- and I was still using my 5/1 strategy, but at least I was running.

I finally hit the turn around and started back towards town-- grabbing sponges at every aid station. By this point, I'd given up on my shot blocks-- just the taste of them made me nauseous. Sips of water left me dry heaving. I was OVER THIS RUN-- but I wasn't done.

What has 2 legs, two arms, and doesn't move? Speed Bump Guy. He had passed out cold in the road--perpendicular to the flow of traffic. He was tall enough that he took up most of the road. The only accurate way to describe him is as a speed bump. Competitors were forced to either go around the foot wide space at his head, go around the foot wide space at his feet OR go over him. Not surprisingly, while medical aid personnel rushed to his side, I saw people do all 3.

After passing Speed Bump Guy, I saw my friend Sandy headed towards me. We waived as she went by and that gave me another momentary lift in my race. Soon after I got my special needs bag and unable to even contemplate anything contained in it-- promptly dumped it into the trash. At this point, I hadn't had anything to eat or drink for 6 miles.

Coming into the center of town was both bitter and sweet. The crowds were amazing. So many people, screaming, yelling, cheering, music blaring, Mike Reilly (the voice of Iron Man) calling out "Jane Smith, YOU ARE AN IRON MAN. Alas, none of this was for me. In a cruel twist of race planning, the course went right by the finish line as we turned to run the last 12 miles. (Although I wouldn't be honest if I didn't admit I wondered what would have happened if I'd simply run down the wrong chute and finished after running a 1/2 marathon--surely that was far enough).

On my way back out I passed my friend and teammate Sandy. She was about 6-7 miles behind me on the course and it was getting late. She screamed at me, "how far away is that turn around and how long do I have?" as she passed. I didn't have time to do the mental math as to how far the mileage was but I knew she had about 90 minutes to make it before the 9:45 cut off. I gave her that information and started hoping that she, and Maria, would make the turn before the cut off time. (as it turned out, BOTH made the turn around before the cut off and made it onto the second loop of the course).

I was headed out again-- ignoring everything at the aid stations except for those glorious sponges. At every aid station I saw volunteers raking those sponges up into piles and putting them in kiddy pools of ice water. At every aid station I pulled my sponges out of my running garb and grabbed at least 3 to cool my face and to put in various places in my running attire. At one point, I had doused myself so thoroughly with sponge water that my running shorts looked like I'd taken them out of the washer before the spin cycle. I ran with a guy who'd been knocked off his bike by a guy who fainted for a while. He believed he had a concussion and hadn't been able to keep down food or water since mile 80 on the bike.

Speed Bump Guy was gone; but I noticed a lot of people trying to take his place. The sides of the road were littered with people who simply couldn't go any farther. Many said they didn't need any help, but I often informed law enforcement officers on the course of a fallen comrade.

About a mile before the turnaround out came the dreaded glow-sticks. For you fast people, glow sticks are what us slow folk get so that we can be seen by motorists and others in the dark. From something Margaret had said, I'd secretly hoped that I wouldn't need one-- but that was most definitely not the case. Glow necklace wrapped around my neck, I soldiered on.

Next came the turn and the way home. At least I was on the way home. It was dark and while the course was still populated, people were dropping like flies. My legs were tired but my arms and back were exhausted. I made bets with myself and deals. Deals with the devil were not far off. Finally, knowing I had an hour to spare on the midnight timeline, I gave up. I set my watch timer for 4 minutes and sat down to stretch out my entire body. IT FELT WONDERFUL!!! I got up 2 minutes into my 4 minutes and started happily running again. Why hadn't I tried this sooner (oh yeah, I was afraid that if I'd sat down I wouldn't get up again).

I saw Sandy headed back out onto the course. We hugged and I told her she was rocking the house. She looked great! She looked Strong. I wish I looked as good as she did. As we hugged I apologized to her for not thinking I would be able to hang around the finish line to see her come in-- her response? "I wouldn't wait for you-- go to bed."

The rest of the run is a blur. I know I stopped for another 2 minute stretch break. I know I saw my friend Maria headed back out on the out and back and called encouragement out to her. I know I made it back into town. I don't really remember much about it. (Come to think of it, as I write this, I remember that I used to say that about stand-alone marathons as well-- that the first 10 miles are hell, the second 10 feel pretty good and the last 6 I don't remember-- I guess that is just my pattern).

The last .2 miles is also a blur. I was moving. I was running. I was coming down the finish chute. The music was playing. . . spectators were banging the boards and were holding out their hands for high fives. I remember trying to navigate over to give someone a high five and then deciding that it simply took too much energy to actually get there so I ignored the rest of the people with their hands outstretched.

I came across the finish line in 15:53:10. My finisher photo shows me looking wasted and tired but happy. At some point I'd moved my glow necklace to my head and was wearing it like a crown. I was done. I was Iron.

I was headed to the medical tent.

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