No, I did not win the Ironman race, but I did “win” in so many other ways that day.
The Santa Rosa Half Ironman is a gorgeous triathlon location for many reasons my fellow iron sisters tell me; we are going to have a perfect day for a race.
As it is my first experience with a race of this magnitude, the absorbtion of the festivities and chaos of the weekend is a priority for me. I ingest the excitement of the booths selling odds and ends that are only priced bumped because of the Ironman logo stuck on them. the fellow athletes chat about their game plans or strategies for their morning, “I’m getting up at 2 AM. I need to do a light jog or I’ll be freezing at the beach”.
My friends and I decide to lay out our items for the transitions (there is normally just one Transition station; a place you use to go in and out of different parts of the race in order to keep food, water and materials including your bike, towels, and running shoes). This race has two, so decisions have to be made for what you want when you want it.
Per usual, I don’t get to bed as early as I’d like, the excitement is coursing through my veins. This will be the longest race I’ve ever done to date. I slowly fall asleep dreaming of my ideal Ironman experience.
We wake up at 2:15AM and get ready to hop into the van and as it happens with 4 ladies, we wind up running late. We can’t find parking either. It’s a hot mess and at 4:25 we have 5 minutes to get to the buses or we have to drive the 65 minutes up the hill to the beginning of the race (good luck getting back there, because the race ends 56 miles away.
We designate people to different duties, one of us will take our transition 2 stuff to our spots while two others save a spot in line; I park the car. We are hoping it doesn’t blow up in our faces that we split up.
We reconvene on the bus. Now the next hurtle…we have to go to the bathroom. We wait in silence to fall out of the bus and rush to the restrooms at the top of the hill; apparently that was everyone else’s idea too.
*Don’t wait until you get to the race start to decide to go to the bathroom. It just won’t work out for you.
We wait in line for the remaining 30 minutes we have to use the facilities. Each of us goes to place our transition stuff in our spots while the other holds the place in line. We all make it just as the race begins. This is the only time I’ll be grateful I’m not a professional athlete. If I were, I’d be in some kind of debilitating tummy pain.
The race begins! My blood is pumping, and they’ve announced the temperature is in the 40’s and the water is very cold; they urge everyone to wear extra protection for the swim and ride including socks, extra head caps and the long wet suits that everyone seems to own except me. I’m the only person I see wearing the short sleeveless wet suit. I’m going to freeze to death.
As I go into the water praying for some kind of massive heat source to protect me from hypothermia, I am determined to swim as fast as I can until I warm up. I step in and don’t think, but dive in and go for it and that made all the difference. Minutes in, I’m hoping to finish the 1.2 mile swim in 30 minutes which is what I had projected from training when out of nowhere I feel this big hand behind my head push me further into the water. Some huge beast of a man its trying to kill me, or he has high hopes of winning at any cost. I veer out of his general direction and not two minutes later, I feel a feminine grasp on my right ankle. This graze of contact is normal, but this lady was hoping for a ride, and wouldn’t let go of me. I don’t know if she was freaking out and hoping for a flotation device, or trying to sabotage my time, but I fluttered out of her reach and had to collect myself. Two things I learn during the swim, Men are ruthless in the water, and if I let it, I could become overwhelmed with what happens in the first leg of this race. I had to decide, will I buck up, focus and swim like the swimmer I am, or just doggie paddle back in with my tail between my legs? I took a breath and swam on the outskirts of the chaos and made it back onto dry land in 38 minutes.
The second part of the race is usually where you make or break your time; the bike portion. Now, the race “experts” let us know that they have changed the bike route so we wouldn’t have head wind for the majority of the ride. I don’t know if they were psyching us out, but we had headwind the WHOLE portion of this race. It was almost laughable how strong this wind felt. Almost.
I realized as I had gotten onto my bike, that none of my transition food was there. Where had it gone? Then I remembered the rush we made earlier that morning and how my ladies and I delegated our transition food; I forgot to take out my bike food from my running food. All my food was at the last leg of the race. I had nothing for 56 miles.
A good samaritan lady next to me saw my duress and handed me a GOO. I thanked her and gulped it down as we started the 56 mile endeavor.
My bike is not the worst, but it certainly isn’t something to be desired. It’s a 1992 Trek 1000. It’s weighs in at about 24 lbs and has a replaced front derailed that never seems to shift correctly. On this ride in particular it decided to act like a tween and fight me every step of the way. the gears fell out completely at one point and the uphills, which I trained for, were heavier than normal since the head winds were pulling my already heavy bike backwards. I pumped more than the racers with $10,000 bikes who basically took a nap for 2 hours while the bike did all the work. I, on the other hand, was working despite my bikes stubborn behavior. I decided to make the ride not about making my ideal time but meeting new people. I changed my perspective and actually had a few fun conversations. It helped keep the joy of the race despite my dashed dreams of a killer race time. I strolled in at 3 hours and 29 minutes for the second leg of the journey.
The last leg of the race was to be the most thrilling for me; for many this is where people lose their cool and either vomit, get hurt or lose hope. For me, I found a strange nirvana. As I rounded into mile 1 my legs started to cramp. I forgot to take my salt pills. This is imperative for runners, or racers who do long distance and don’t eat enough. I know I don’t eat enough, it just doesn’t sound appealing to eat more than what my body is asking. So, in order to keep going, you must keep your body on top of it’s electrolytes. I also didn’t do that (remember, no food during the bike). I quickly spotted the first aid station and asked where the medic tent could be found. “That’s not until mile 9”. Hmm, that’s strange, I thought. You’d think there’d be more than one for a race this size, but no worries. I have prepared for this. I decide to sprint for .5 miles and walk 2 minutes. This would ensure no further pain would come to me nor any major loss of time (and it’s good for my mental awareness, so I don’t slow down out of boredom). I see that this method has me passing people even in my walking portions. It gives me a new thrill and joy that I start cheering people on and looking out for my friends. I see a few and chat with them, before long, however it’s time to sprint again and I’m off.
This goes on until I reach mile 9 and discover that there is no medic tent. At this point, I decide, well there’s only 4 miles left, let’s continue to do this until the last mile. Then, run and don’t stop until the finish. This plan goes better than I expected. As I start to lose steam, I hear cheers from the fellow iron men and women and their spectators. I usually find some reserve of energy that pushes me to sprint the last bit; it comes and I pass the finish line smiling. My run portion time is 2:17 for 13.1 miles. I finish at 6 hours 43 minutes. Not my desired time, but the time I am blessed to have.
This race taught me so much about training, and how race day is 80% mental. The other 20% is what the months of training was for, finding that habitual discipline.
I truly believe anyone can do an ironman, but it’s all about finding that discipline and making it a habit, so when race day comes you can dig deep and fight those demons and obstacles and find a truer more refined self.
It’s out of context, but a biblical verse that has always been a mantra during many portions of races for me is,
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”. Philippians 4:13
That verse was with me the whole race, as well as being reminded that (much like psalm 17:3) we are tested and put to our limits, and it’s up to us to decide if we are going to overcome and continue, or choose not to see the expanse of our endeavors. I think that’s why I race; I want to see how far I am able to go. I desire to see, like explorers, where the boundaries truly lie for me and if this will lead to the next great adventure. I’m willing to push to find out. Are you?