Eleven months of training as a team. Eleven months to form some of the deepest, truest friendships since high school. When we started, I never imagined how close I would get to my teammates, nor how much this season would mean to me. It is hard to express and say, but it is there.
As a team we had surpassed our fundraising goal – blowing away all expectations. Goal one was met and shattered. November 20 was the second goal: complete an Ironman triathlon.
Living and celebrating life is what training with Team has taught me to do, and it is what I am forever grateful for Team for teaching me to do. It also brought to me something that I love to do and consider my celebration: endurance sports. First it was marathons, then triathlons, and now an Ironman. It seemed a natural step, and I felt ready.
The morning of
I slept well the night before until about 2 a.m. And then I was awake, but lying in bed trying to relax until it was time to get up at 4 a.m. At 4 I got out of bed, had my cereal and soy milk, got the last of my things together, told Carlos I was off, and headed down to meet the team. People were nervous and excited. We are a team of 46, and 40 of us are attempting our first Ironman. Of course we would be nervous. Our coaches were nervous and excited. It was not a paralyzing nervous, but one we all expected, and shared with each other on how it was playing out in our minds.
There were two 15 passenger vans, and some people had their own cars. Kathryn and I got in to the first 15 passenger van. Cameron got in behind me and sat on my right. We all waited a bit for Javi to get things together and we were off.
Javi dropped us off as close as he could to the start. He gave me a hug, gave me words of encouragement, and I walked over to transition with my teammates. During my time in transition I managed to complicate things and increase the amount of walking I had to do. I left my special needs bags at my bike transition bag, and realized it at my bike. So…back I wandered to get my bags – hoping they had been left where I had placed them on the ground or placed aside by one of the fantastic volunteers. I found them near where I had left them, picked them up, and walked off to drop off my special needs bags – not gonna pull that trick again! Then I wandered back to my bike to find a pump for my tires. I was doing a lot of back-and-forth walking (mistakes and inefficiencies by me) but went with it. My heart rate was a bit jacked at this point. I tried to keep calm – talking with teammates and others when I was in lines.
I had realized, the night before, I had forgotten to let the air out of my tires, and was waiting to discover a flat. Every person I told this too had said the temperature wasn’t hot enough during the day to really be a concern (thank you Mike and Sean), but I didn’t really feel relieved until I got to my bike and saw my tires were not flat. Kelly was near me in transition, and had given me the team’s communal pump. She also loaned me her headlamp (I was grateful she remembered that!) so I could see to, and I pumped them up to the desired pressure. Afterwards I wandered around with the pump looking for someone to hand it off to and after about 5 minutes found Rachel who was looking for that pump. With my hands empty, except for my wet suit and swim gear, I wandered off to wait in the port-o-potty line. It was getting pretty long. I had heard Mike’s (coach) voice while in the potty, so wandered towards where I had heard it once out and…voila….found much of the team. What a relief. I found Kathryn, and we stayed together until the start of the race. We went to drop off our morning goods bags, wandered back to the team, and put on our wet suits. I hadn’t realized it, but we were right next to where we had to be to get in to the water for the race start. Great! I put on my swim booties. I knew the water temperature was OK, but didn’t want numb feet. We milled around and worked our way towards the front to get in to the water while staying close to our teammates. Many hugs were given, and words of thanks and encouragement. This was real. I knew the water would be OK once I was in from yesterday’s practice swim, but right now my nerves were so bad that my teeth were chattering like I was freezing. I knew I wasn’t cold: I had my wet suit on. I kept trying to distract and calm myself. It didn’t really work until we got in to the water.
The pros started, and now it was our turn to get in to the water. There was a big hurry as there was only 10 minutes to get over 2,500 athletes in the water. Kathryn and I jumped in, and swam towards to the start. The water temperature wasn’t a shock. I felt comfortable with the temperature, and was glad I didn’t have to fear it anymore.
As we started to swim forward, suddenly my usually heart rate spike happened and I had to go on my back. I swam that way for a few minutes. Kathryn was near me – reminding me to keep calm. I was soon able to calm down enough to swim. We reached a point about 2/3 – 3/4 of the way towards to front. It felt like a good place for us to start, so we treaded there. We would look back and see people still pouring in to the water. We looked up at the bridge behind us and saw, thanks to the shirts and boa, Ann! We waved and she and Dave waved back. I was feeling calm and good. Kathryn reminded me to keep putting my face in the water so when I start swimming it won’t be shocked at the temperature. Karen was near us for a bit: calm and collected, and she swam off a bit on her own.
It was 7:02 by my watch, and it looked like people were still pouring in to the water. At 7:03 the gun went off. It was time to start!
I can start by saying this was a brutal swim. The actual swim wasn’t bad, but it was aggressive. I was kicked, swatted with arms, and pushed down into the water. At times I made it a point to protect myself. I lost sight of Kathryn soon, but expected that. She is a strong swimmer and very aggressive. She has no problem body checking people in the water.
And so I swam. There was actually a good portion I was able to have my own area, after the first 10 minutes. Not much ran through my mind except to focus on my swim: my stroke, defending myself, and keeping a clear path (or swimming over people to get to a clear path). My right swim sock started falling off, and I was relieved when it fell off. I felt like I was swimming stronger without it.
At one point someone hit my left calf and it cramped. Gah! This wasn’t good. It passed, but I felt that phantom cramp. I would swim with my left toe pointed to stretch it out. I did this about 3-4 times for 2-3 strokes for the rest of the swim. It seemed to feel OK, just a phantom knot from the cramp. I figured I had a lot of time on the bike to work it out, and didn’t focus on it.
Periodically I would put in a few harder strokes to work things through and make sure I didn’t lapse in to a slow, comfortable stroke. It worked for me and kept me focused on the swim.
When I reached the first turn it was chaos….but made it through. The second turn was the same story. On the way back down the canal I was on the inside of the buoys, and swam a bit like a drunken sailor. I would get far inside the buoys, but not passed the kayakers keeping the swimmers in line, and head back to be outside the buoy. I repeated this about 3 times on the return journey. I sighted a lot more heading back to stay straight, but also liked being near the buoys as there were fewer people to fight with for space.
Soon I rounded the last buoy and was swimming in towards the swim exit. Hooray! I had made it. No panic during the swim – it worked its way out in the swim to the start. I gave my left calf a few kicks with a pointed toe: seemed OK. This swim had been pretty good for me. I put in a little more effort to head to the swim exit. Soon a volunteer was pulling me out of the water and I was climbing the steps. The swim was over….and I was looking forward to hopping on my bike.
As I ran, a volunteer caught me (literally), told me to sit down (may be my only time all day) and pulled off my wetsuit. She helped me up, handed me my wetsuit, I thanked her and ran off to my bike gear bag. I was pleased I didn’t have any calf cramping – just that phantom feeling. I grabbed my bag, with the help of more volunteers, and was soon running to the changing tent. Once in I found a seat, and a volunteer started pulling things out of my bag. I put on my tri-top, garmin, arm warmers, race number belt, sunglasses, helmet, added eucerin inside my shorts for the ride, thanked my volunteer (who was already taking care of my wetsuit and swim gear for me) and was on my way. The volunteers putting on sunscreen asked if I wanted any –Oh yeah! Two people threw a bunch of sunscreen on me and in a flash I was done there. I had to go to the bathroom and ran towards to port-o-pottys, opened one and ooops – a man was peeing. I apologized, closed the door, and decided to stop along the bike.
I ran to row 5 to grab my bike. A volunteer grabbed it off the rack – the other side I had been told to go down. I went under the rack, grabbed my bike and ran to the bike out (nice and close to my bike position). I mounted my bike and was off.
Once I was on my bike I felt pretty good. I stretched my left foot down to test my calf and it felt loose. Great! I wandered down to where we could start passing, smiling all the way. I felt pretty good – except I had to go to the bathroom. Out I went the first time. I knew that time would fly on the bike. Three out-and-backs just seem fast mentally. My garmin apparently never picked up the satellites. I could still read my cadence and heart rate, so I was fine with it. This actually worked out well for the run.
On the way out I noticed the incline along B-line Highway. It was hard not to draft, and many times I just rode in a pack. Three out-and-backs and over 2,500 athletes makes not drafting very hard. I soon passed a few teammates, cheering them on as I went along. Hartley soon came up behind me and passed me. No riding together today. He was ready, and doing great.
I passed a few water stops, but didn’t stop – lines at the potties. I hit the turn around and started heading back – and literally felt like I was flying back: downhill and no headwind. There was a place where it wasn’t a water stop, but people were there and there were port-o-potties (and no line). I stopped quickly, felt better, and headed out. I continued flying back.
On the way in I passed Tushar and Sarah – dressed as a banana and chicken. They stayed there the entire ride, and changed costumes. Each time I passed them I smiled, laughed, and was cheered by their presence.
As I passed Pam nearing the first turnaround I said on your left and then something akin to “Looking good.” She didn’t hear that part and once she recognized me said “That’s all you have to say to your teammate? On your left?”. I smiled and answered back I had said “Looking good” – which I had but likely got lost in the surrounding sounds. I was having fun and loved seeing my teammates along the course. Exchanges helped keep it light.
Soon I was near the turnaround and saw the TNT cheering section, and just smiled.
People were very friendly along this course – which surprised and cheered me. A few people that did pass me asked where I was from in GA, or called me Georgia. One woman commented on my arm warmers – citing hers were also socks! I would play back-and-forth with people for awhile, and we would chat a little when it happened.
Along the way out the second time, the out and back was about the same – I felt the hills out and flew back. At the first water stop I dumped an empty bottle and picked up a water bottle. Extra water was necessary out here.
I chatted a bit with on gentleman, and then pulled away, grateful for the exchange. I was really having a great time.
Somewhere along the way I got a bad stitch in my left side. Sometimes it really hurt, most of the time it was a dull ache. I practiced deep breathing for a lot of the bike, trying to keep it at bay. I stayed in aero except when the sharp pains occurred, then popping up to stretch. I leaned to the left a few times, probably getting the stares of a few fellow athletes. I didn’t worry about it, enjoying my time on the bike and soaking up each peddle stroke, taking deep breaths and holding on to the hope that it would work its way out for the run. I also made sure to keep up with my nutrition. It didn’t seem to make things better or worse for the side stitch, and knew that, regardless, I needed it, and without it, finishing would become almost a non-option. I made sure to take my salt as well.
At the special needs stop I decided that, with my side stitch, I better stick with my nutrition as long as possible, so picked up my extra bottle and left my empty one. After a quick stop I was back on my way, glad I had made the stop. I left my arm warmers on not because I needed them, but because I had no sunscreen on under them, and didn’t want a burn. I wasn’t overheating, and could leave them on easily.
I had been alone most of the way out, but coming back I was in a huge pack. I managed to work my way to the front and by myself. At some point someone who had come up behind me with a few other people was given a drafting penalty. Really? I was surprised. I was riding such that if I was near people I tried to stay to one side so maybe at least the ref would think I was not trying to draft deliberately. It was a packed course.
As I came in I saw the TNT cheer section again, kept smiling big and headed out.
The third lap didn’t seem so bad going out…I guess there was a bit of a tailwind. The side stitches were getting more serious, and I focused on deep breaths, thinking to myself of the irony of having a bad day on the bike on game day. I had a bad day physically – but I didn’t let it get to me mentally. I continued to enjoy myself and not worry about the next step – I dealt with one thing at a time.
When I got in to a few groups and near someone, I would try and stay away, and realize that I was going to have to pass. I would grit my teeth, be thankful that the side stitch is on the bike and not the run and I could work through it, and increase the effort to make a clear pass and get distance between us (and not slow down once I had passed them!).
On the way back that flying feeling wasn’t as pronounced – there was a headwind. Another woman and I were playing back and forth a couple of times. The second time I was behind her I was behind her for a bit, and decided to back off since I wasn’t going to pass her. Right after that choice a group passed me and I saw another athlete get a drafting penalty. That one was very close for me! Although I thought about it and thought if I did get a drafting penalty it wouldn’t be bad – it would give me 5 minutes to work out my side stitch.
I neared the first water stop (for outgoing) and heard Joanna singing (loudly) “I want to ride my bicycle I want to ride my bike…” and smiled more. I saw Beth R. heading out too. It was harder than one would expect to see teammates on the other side of the road. I didn’t see too many, and spent some time wondering where they were. I knew they were out there.
Soon I was back to the TNT cheering section and going on to the transition area. Yeah! I was feeling good, except the really bad side stitch and the phantom cramp in my left calf. I kind of laughed – my left side was a mess! I rode in to comments on my arm warmers as I biked in to transition. At the line I dismounted, handed my bike to a volunteer and ran in to T2.
I ran in towards my bag. I heard my number being called as I ran down and a volunteer handed me my bag. My side hurt, but I kept running. I wasn’t going to worry about it. I had 9 hours…I could walk it if I had to – Coke may help. I ran in to the change tent and a volunteer directed me to a seat. I sat down, handed her my helmet, arm warmers and started changing my socks and shoes. I told her about my stomach. She had them check if medical had pepto – No. Oh well – it may just be a slow run. I had time and wasn’t worried. Things happen.
Soon I was ready. I thanked my volunteer and ran out the tent while changing my garmin to run. Since it hadn’t picked up the satellites on the bike it still had plenty of battery, picked up satellites, and I had it for the entire run! I hit up the sunscreen volunteers again and did stop at the port-o-potty. This time they had volunteers directing us to open ones and I had no wait and didn’t surprise anyone!
Out I went. My side was a little sore. No panic – hoping that some Coke and a few burps would help. I ran and met someone who called me Georgia (my TNT shirt gave my state) and he asked where in GA I was from – he was from Duluth (runner number 1308 – Dan Schian) . We chatted. He would get ahead, I would catch up, and pass him. After the first loop I lost him, but know he finished not long after me. He also offered salt to help with my side. I said thank you, but I had salt and would be OK.
At the first stop I took Pepsi, water, and stopped at the bathroom. The Pepsi made me burp and I started to feel pretty good. In fact, after that my side stitch never bothered me on the run.
I kept up with my nutrition: Pepsi at every stop, (sometimes every-other), water at all stops, and chicken broth at the end. It worked.
I felt strong, although my legs were fatigued. I could tell. A couple of times my calves felt like they had nothing left – nothing. Both times I took salt tabs and was OK in about 5 minutes. After the first drained calf feeling I made sure that I kept up with my salt. I was thrilled with the chicken broth on the third lap.
I ran most of the course, walking the water stops. There is one hill along the back and I ran that the first time, but walked it the other two times. It wasn’t worth the effort to run it, and the break felt very good.
The miles clicked by. The course is a 3 loop course that loosely resembles a bow-tie. I am not sure how it works out, but kudos to the person who figured it out. I loved getting to see the TNT cheering section and occasionally seeing teammates along their run.
Carlos and Sarah were on the back part of the run and I saw them 5 times – twice on the first two loops and once on the last. They told me they saw me 8 times- I guess I was focused and missed them 3 times. A few of my teammates told me after the race they loved seeing Carlos and Sarah on the back.
I saw Kathryn along the first loop – we slapped hands as we passed, Chris along the second (saw Kathryn again – but she was focused at that point) and Joanna and Dori along my third, to name a few. It was great to see people – made me smile more. Twice I heard a voice coming from above me – it was Ricki Bobby calling to me. I smiled and waved – knowing I was close to finishing a lap each time.
On my third loop Kelly caught up with me, and then passed me. I hollered after her “Get it,Girl!” Later I passed her. We exchanged which loops we were on and I kept going. She looked good, and it was good to see her.
A true kicker was getting to see the TNT cheer section near the end of each loop. Each time I saw them I just smiled. When people would holler “Go Team” my answer was to smile more than I already was.
The third lap was unbelievable – those signs saying 20, 23 and 25 were for me! Going past the TNT cheering section was electric. I ran by and saw that I got to run towards the finish – no more loops. I felt great. I ran up the small incline, and soon found Ann and Dave with some of the TNT century team that had come over after their event on Saturday to cheer us on. I missed the flag handout (as in never saw it), but felt wonderful and started my run in.
I remembered the words to enjoy my time coming down the chute, and I did. I was smiling from ear to ear. The journey to this point had been fantastic. The chute is electric with people lining both sides cheering you in. With a flurry of lights and music it was soon over, I was across the line. A volunteer came up to me and walked me around some, making sure I was OK. He took me to get my finisher’s photo, made one last check that I was OK and let me go.
I had finished! And I loved every step. I had met my goal and had a wonderful time. I had kept my calm, didn’t let things freak me out, and made it through.
I wandered towards the food and found David, and later Chris. We hugged. I signed up for a massage – 45 minute wait. OK. I found Carlos and Sarah – they were on the other side of the fence. They hugged me, and we chatted. They had had a fun day, and that made me smile and warmed my heart. This meant a lot to me – and that they had fun sharing it with me just meant the world. They had already turned in my bike to tri-bike transport, and had my gear bags. I took a change of clothes from them, and my phone. After talking with them for a few they headed back to the hotel….and I wandered to food. I got chocolate milk and then found M-dot and Javi to check in. I spent about 40 minutes with them, and sat down at one point as suddenly at one point I did get a little light-headed. Javi sat next to me, and listened as I talked…probably making sure I was OK too! Thanks, Javi. I was aglow. Once I felt more solid, I headed back to the massage tent. I had missed my turn, but was taken to the front of the line as I did show up. It felt great. She spent about a half-hour with me, and I am glad I took advantage of the service. While in there I heard Gibson’s name being called – “Joseph Boo-see” (last name was mispronounced)as he crossed the finish line. I smiled and cheered him in from the massage table.
I went back over to M-dot and Javi, hung out for a few, changed clothes, and then decided to look for others near the finish line. The seating area was chaos, and I wasn’t going to find anyone. So, I went to where I had seen Ann and Dave….seemed like the perfect spot to cheer people in, and I wanted to see Ann. When I saw her I was thrilled – and got the biggest hug. We chatted, swapped day stories and adventures, and cheered teammates and others coming in. Kathryn soon came by. She killed it – under 14 hours!
I got to cheer in several of my teammates and had a terrific time. We would be looking down and waiting and when we saw someone – light up. I spoke with Carol from the cycling team, and Susan soon came over too. It was a pretty good group there.
Teammates and spouses also joined us: Kathryn, Stephanie, Josh, Jim, Ken and Ricki Bobby. Pictures were taken, hugs given, and cheers yelled as more teammates passed. We started checking who had passed the last check point, and knew that everyone was going to make it…easily. We waited, and cheered. Each time we saw someone a big cheer and wave went up. We also cheered people not on our team – there were some amazing people going by. Jason and Heather had raced together. Nanci and Michael came in hand-in-hand. Michelle and Regina came in together. Joanna stopped to hug Susan. Sean hugged Ann on the way in. Bob came in, smiling and in great spirits. Danielle came along with her radiant and catchy smile. Everyone looked strong coming in, and many were emotional.
Soon Rachel went by. That’s it – everyone was home. Kathryn, Ann and I made our way to the finish line. Our team gathered, hugged and congratulated each other. It was amazing. We discussed where people were, who needed a ride back to the hotel, and made our way to the van. Kathryn and I got in. Joanna had her pizza from the finishers’ tent. David soon joined us, beer in hand. And I am blanking on everyone else. But we had a full van. M-dot drove us home.
I got back to the room. Carlos was asleep. He woke up, we chatted some, and then I went and showered and went to bed, but only slept two hours. It had been a big day, and we were getting up early to go to the finishers store.
I never really imagined what finishing would be like, but I would have to say this was practically perfect in every way. I can’t believe this adventure has come to a close. I am grateful for my teammates and their friendship. I will miss seeing them so often, and being in contact. I will miss the emails, texts and hugs.