Sunday, January 16, 2011

A First Time Ironman

            3:45 am and the alarm sounds.  It’s still dark outside and the lingering fullness from pasta the night before made me wonder how I was supposed to eat my pre-race breakfast when I was not hungry at all?  The next few hours seemed to fly by and I was still at ease when the horn goes off for the pros. Twenty minutes till its go time.  Its not so much the race that gets my heart pumping, it’s the 2200 athletes that are lining the small docks for a full ten minutes before start time to jump into the Caribbean water.  I must get in the water I tell myself.  It will calm me down and I’ll find my start position and be ready.  Five more minutes go by and athletes are still getting in the water.  The time is getting closer and I feel great.  My body is loose, the water is clear, calm, and best of all I have a decent amount of space around me.  Then it hits me, the Ironman mass start is one of the most brutal race starts in the world, I have no idea what to expect, but one thing I do know is that all I can see around me is orange caps.  I calm myself down.  Without any warning the air horn blasts!  There is an eggbeater effect in the water with arms and legs going in every direction.  I somehow still have a good space around me and I take off.  My gap closes within the first hundred meters and I just have to get outside of the first buoy to avoid the sharp turn pile up.  After a few hundred meters of scratching and kicking the first buoy is approaching and I take the pocket around to the right and catch the current, passing all those that cut it short. A hundred meters later and I come up on the second buoy with the same game plan.  I sight for the long straightaway of the course I have nothing but clear blue all around me. Success!  The rest of the swim was at my pace, staying long, flat, and pulling the water while breathing like I was taught.  Everything had come together perfectly for the swim and I pushed out of the water in 1:03. A 2.4 mile swim down and feeling great. While I was running to the transition area I can only attempt to describe the feeling that I had seeing the Hawaii Supporters stand out with their big handmade yellow signs attached to a rubber spatula and it made me want to laugh out loud. 
            I flew out of transition and onto the bike.  My aero bars were full of e21 capsules with an extra pack in my bike jersey.  I felt fueled and prepped for the 112 miles that were laid before me.  The first loop seemed to fly by and as I was approaching town the support of Cozumel was deafening.  There were parts of the course that mimics what we see every year on television with The Tour de France. The road starts out wide and it slowly caves in with the overflowing support of the fans.  It was so empowering and I felt my energy level surge as I flew past the hundreds of spectators only to head back out to the quiet open road.  The second loop did not go by as fast and the wind picked up forcing me to slow down a little.  The murmur of the cyclists got a little quieter but I was still feeling great, and taking my e21 as scheduled. I just focused on plowing through the miles one tick at a time.  As I came back through town again with the crowds only growing as the day went on, I felt uplifted and I knew I only had one more loop to go.  I started getting a little tightness in my left quadriceps so I downed 4 e21s with 36 miles to go on the bike.  I spun out the tightness and within a few minutes of taking the e21 I am back at 100 percent again!  I am able to pick my speed back up into the twenties again and maintain it the last 20 miles. It felt as if I had my own personal tail wind and everybody else had the headwind.  I tried to encourage some of the other cyclists to keep it up with a little uplifting conversation and a few responded back, but I could tell they were hurting.  Coming through town for the final lap it was if the supporters knew exactly where we were at on the bike.  Only 3 miles to go and the crowds was bellowing. 2 miles to go and the road began narrowing as I made the last turn into the transition area. I could barely hear myself think. I had done it.  I finished the bike 112 miles in a PR 5:52.  Now was my last transition of the day and out onto the 26.2 mile run.
            I managed a quick transition into my running shoes, popped some e21 and applied sun block in the changing tent and I was off!   Coming out of the changing tent was so surreal.  While changing I did not here a thing that was going on outside I just did what I was there to do.  Just on the other side of the tents were thousands of chants, drums, music and cheering. It was so loud! I had never seen anything like it in any other race I’ve been in.  I put my head down, felt the energy, and just went mile to mile.  I stayed steady through the first loop of the run and was sticking to my game plan. My pace was slower than I had hoped but I felt great and I was making decent time.  I approached loop 2 and I was feeling the work of the day wearing on me.  1 more loop and I ran into a friend I had met a few days prior from Spain who was also doing his first Ironman.  A few miles of running with him managed to take our minds off the race.  He fell back a little and I pushed forward; it was after all the last lap and I was going to leave it all out here.  At mile 18 my legs started tightening and all of a sudden I was taken from running a smooth pace to a shuffle. What happened?!  I was so excited coming through town and being on my last lap that I had dropped my e21 when I went for energy gels and I had no idea they had fallen out.  Luckily the run special needs station was a mile ahead and I had spare e21 in there.  I shuffled to special needs and yelled my number,“Quince trienta y ocho!” I didn’t know, but the numbers just came out as if I was fluent in Spanish.  It was a mixture of exhaustion and determination. “ # 1538!” I went the half-mile up to the turn around and they could not find it.  After about 2 minutes with the volunteers running around looking for #1538 the yellow bag arrived.  A quick “Gracias!” and I took off again.  I immediately popped 4 e21 and with each step I could feel the tension releasing and my pace sped back up .  It was beginning to get dark and the finish line was a few miles away.  I picked it up a little bit more the closer I got.  I lifted my head and could feel the finish growing closer.  I ran through the dark and I can hear KC from Try Fitness break through the silence “almost there!” she yells.  I came into town and saw the enormous Mexican flag demarking only a mile left.  Only a mile left in a day that I’d traveled over 139 miles already.  I passed Rick Keene wearing his e21 shirt amongst the crowd. ½ mile left. The noise level continued to grow as I came upon the main square.  The crowd was chanting in Spanish and  the bands were jamming. There were lights flashing and lines of children wanting high fives.  I tried to get all the little ones as I bolted to the finish chute past the run turn around, no more loops for me today.  I did it.  I felt amazing.  I felt prepared and energized the entire day.  I crossed that line, performed my finish line ritual, and soaked it all in.  With months of hard training and Recovery e21  helping me every step of the way there was never a moment when it felt unachievable. 
            Ironman may not be a race for the majority, however it is a testiment of personal determination and the belief that you can.  Whether you are racing for an age group spot to Kona or to accomplish another goal the distances are the same for us all.  You must complete a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike and a 26.2 mile run under 17 be classified as part of the Ironman Family.  I was welcomed with loving arms in Cozumel, México that day with great support from Recovery e21, Siobhan, Rick, Lori and KC along with family and friends back home and around the world. 
            “Your Imagination is your preview of life’s coming attractions”


1 comment: