There were countless times on Sunday I believed I would be starting this blog post like I did last year; as an athlete who tried her best, but just couldn’t do it.
But instead, I am starting this post as a 2x IRONMAN Finisher. I can’t flipping believe it!!! I am still on cloud nine, and so, so grateful to have had the opportunity to redeem myself on one of the toughest courses on the IRONMAN circuit!
Was it easy? It was one of the hardest days of my life.
Was it worth it? Absolutely. Pushing yourself to the brink, you find out what you are capable of. You realize you are stronger than you ever. thought. possible. You feel truly alive.
As many of you know, I failed at my first attempt in Lake Placid last year, getting a DNF with 10 miles to go. Ever since, I’ve always wanted to go back – I wanted to prove to myself I could do it. And the opportunity to do so came a knockin’…
This race sells out a year in advance. However, an opportunity to purchase an entry through my sponsor, Team Chocolate Milk, came up — so I took it, and registered about a week before the race. Did I feel even less prepared than last year? YES. I have definitely been doing less cardio than I did 12 months ago. Did I know if I could do it? I had noooo idea. But, rereading my blogs from last year, I knew I would still have an amazing experience no matter what happened. It would be a weekend filled with inspiring people I aspire to be like; a weekend surrounded by uplifting people and positive energy. I also knew that if I had an IRON will, and just kept moving forward, there was a chance I could finish. So, that was that – I was going for it!
I went up to the race Friday afternoon, went through check-in, walked around town, met up with a friend, and then checked into the place I was staying at – a $35 room I got off AirBnB 5 miles away from the start.
Saturday was also low-key and spent in a similar fashion … I relaxed, checked-in my gear and bike, and walked around town. And ate, and ate, and ate.
Both nights I went out to eat with Keith, a friend who was also doing the race. And by dinner, I of course mean carbo-loading. And by carbo-loading, I pretty much mean pizza. And by pizza, I pretty much mean this:
(I was really hoping everything went smoothly on race day for multiple reasons. But I couldn’t help but think that if I didn’t even make it through the swim, I’d be really regretting the 10+ lbs of pizza, pasta and bread I stuffed into my face the week before!)
Anyways, after dinner on Saturday, I headed back to my scary, desolate, no phone service room to try and get as much sleep as possible. (Sleep – HA!) I was realllly hoping I would sleep well, but sleep is something I always struggle with, even more so when I’m stressed. And I was stressed to. the. max. I could only manage about 5 hours of sleep Friday night, and 3 hours race night. 3!! I wasn’t happy about that number, which was stressing me out even more, but it was out of my control. … I’ve raced on little to no sleep before. Luckily, my high calorie endurance formula I would be drinking, Hammer Perpetuam, had caffeine!
And not being able to sleep did have a perk. … I was probably one of the first people to get to the race start. Sooo, I basically got the closest parking spot to transition. I knew this would be extremely beneficial after the race, when I would have to somehow carry all my gear bags and wheel my bike back to my car all by myself. Sounds easy enough. But after 140.6 miles? I knew I would probably be hobbling and looking like someone beat me with a 2×4. So with about 45 minutes to chill before transition even opened, I just laid down in the back of my Jeep and tried to get a little more rest before it was GO TIME!
The Swim (2.4 miles) – 1:34:14
There was actually talk that they may have had to cancel the swim, and we didn’t know for sure until about 5 am race morning. The night before, there was a large building fire on Main street directly in front of Mirror Lake. It raged for hours, but thankfully no one was hurt (the first responders were incredible and worked tirelessly through the night!) . However, race officials were concerned about unsafe levels of ash and runoff in the water. Luckily, DEC tested the water and it passed – the swim was a go!
Over 2,300 athletes were at the start, and I positioned myself somewhere in the 1:21 – 1:30 expected swim seed. The cannon went off at 6:30 am sharp, and the fastest swimmers began funneling into the water. The clock read 6:47 am by the time I entered the water, meaning I had until 11:47 pm to cross the finish (17 hours), or I would receive a DNF (Did Not Finish).
I entered the swim smiling, and finished the swim smiling. Overall, I thought it went well for me and I was happy with my time – one hour and 34 minutes for 2.4 miles. Not too bad for me considering I hadn’t swam in over a month. The water was fairly calm and I just got into my groove and kept on swimming. I swam as far to the left as I could to avoid the mass of swimmers as much as I could, and luckily I didn’t get hit or punched by another swimmer accidentally. It was pretty uneventful, but I’m always happy to be out of the water! And Greg and Carrie, friends I know from my home gym, were volunteering and were my wetsuit strippers!
The Bike (112 miles) – 8:32:07
The bike is normally my favorite. But today, it was rough. And not just because of the 6,898 feet of elevation gain. Last year, eating and drinking too little led to my demise. This year, I was determined to take in as many calories as I could. However, I learned pretty quickly that this was not the best approach, either. I started having severe stomach pains on my right side around mile 30, and by mile 40, I was hunched over my handlebars, sobbing. If I had to describe it, I would say that i felt like my kidney’s were going to explode. I had noooo idea how I was going to be able to keep going! And at mile 40 of the bike?! I usually love the bike!
I didn’t know what to do. I ended up just standing on the side of the road for about 5 – 10 minutes, hoping to feel better. A kind group of spectators tried to help me, offering me hugs and encouraging words. And eventually a medic drove by. … He wanted to call a SAG vehicle for me! No, no, no. I was not ending my day before noon! My new goal was to just make it to the next aid station to reexamine how I was feeling. So, slowly but surely, I pedaled my way to the next aid station where I was able to talk more to a volunteer nurse. She asked me what I had been eating and drinking, and she guessed I was taking in wayyyyy to many calories. She said my kidneys likely couldn’t process all I was eating/drinking. She told me to try switching to just plain water for the next hour or so to see if that helped, but that if I started vomiting or peeing blood I should stop. (Peeing blood?! I’d be done; don’t have to tell me twice!) Her advice seemed to save the day, for as the clock ticked on, I felt better and better. I drank just water for a while, and then I slowly tried to consume about 300 calories / hr thereafter.
Feeling better, the second lap was much better for me than the first … at least in that regard! But once I hit mile 80, I was just tired of being in the saddle. My toes burned, my butt was sore – I was ready to be in a different position. But I knew it would eventually come to an end, so I really tried to take in the scenery and focus on how beautiful that bike course really is. It really is breathtaking at places!
When I eventually rolled back into town, I was sooo excited to be done and grateful to not have had any flats/mechanical issues (besides my chain popping off at mile 111). Had that been the case, I would have been tight to make the 5:30 pm bike cutoff. And even though my bike split this year was almost an hour more than last years, I’m okay with it. It was one of my toughest rides, but I fought through it and didn’t give up! For that, I am proud!
And fun fact: My max speed on the bike was 40.6 miles on the massive downhill. Wahoo!
The Run (26.2 miles) – 6:20:05
This is the part where it really became a struggle for me. Running is probably my weakest discipline of the three, and I knew my training was not up to par with being able to run a marathon. And, in the IRONMAN, you’re already worn out from the previous two legs, so its a whole different type of marathon. I didn’t know how it was going to go exactly, but I was determined. The run is what got me last year, but I had made it this far again. I wasn’t going to go down without a fight.
Starting the run, it was extremely hot out. Hotter than anyone expected for the race. The heat index was probably in the 90’s. It seemed like countless people were having to rework their plan, and many people slowed to a shuffle or walk.
Since it was so humid and sunny, I decided to take a canister of Base Salt that they offered at one of the aid stations. I had never used Base Salt before, but they were encouraging it, and knew I should be keeping my sodium levels up. The volunteer told me all I had to do was lick my thumb, press it to the canister, give it a shake, and then lick the electrolyte salt off the pad of my thumb. She said I should do this about once per mile. I did as she advised.
But then I immediately thought about alllll of the disgusting porta potties I had been in throughout the day, and how none of them had Purell.
And I was licking my thumb.
Gross. For people who don’t know me, I can be quite the germ-o-phob. But, no matter how disgusted I was, I wanted to finish the race more. So, each mile or so, I kept taking the Base Salt as directed. Along with the salt, I tried to grab whatever else I could try and stomach at the aid stations. Chicken broth, water, flat Coca Cola, orange slices and grapes seemed to be all I could stomach. I was just trying to stay hydrated in the heat, and get in some calories.
I kept moving forward, talking with other athletes here and there, high-fiving others I knew as I passed. But about 1/2 way through the run, I started to have a small melt-down. Everything hurt … And as I was trying to put one foot in front of the other amidst the crowd of cheering spectators knowing I had 13.1 miles left — it dawned on me that I didn’t think I was going to make the time cut-off. I didn’t think I would finish before 11:47.
I was grateful then to see some familiar faces who assured me I had plenty of time. So, I was able to calm myself down and do some math, and figured if I kept moving at the pace I was going, I would have a nice cushion of 20 minutes or so. (sarcasm there … 20 minutes is not really a cushion!) … But I knew it was in me to make it. I just had to put my head down, and dig deep! And once I stopped crying, I returned to my happy, smiling self:
A couple things I immediately thought of when I saw this photo (that I HIGHLY debated about sharing):
- OMG, do I really look like that? I LOOK LIKE HELL.
- Whatttttt am I doing with my hands?! Who runs like that?!
- Do I really have that many chins?!
- Is that even a smile?! Like, why do I look scared?
- Did I mention I look like hell?
Any who, it thankfully was dark at this point so not many people could see I run like a freak with my arms looking like a Tyrannasaurus Rex. As it night continued to fall, I just kept saying “I CAN DO THIS” over and over again, and kept. on. trekking. Sounds easy enough. But really, it took every fiber of my being to keep moving forward. Because this pretty much sums up how I felt miles 16 – 22:
There were countless times I wanted to throw in the towel on that longggggg out and back stretch, in the pitch black. It felt like I was never going to finish. I had hourssss left. My toes burned. My knee hurt. My legs ached. I felt sick. An athlete walking next to me said this felt like a death march. I had to agree with her.
Mile 24 was the last hill of the day, and we were finalllyyy back in the heart of town. There were some spectators and earlier finishers cheering us on. You could hear the music and excitement coming from the oval. I had 2.2 miles to go; just an out and back down Mirror Lake Drive. I was excited; I thought at this point I was going to make it. But I was also still struggling. Luckily, these two strangers on the side of the road saw me, and cheered me up the hill. They must have known I could have used a pick-me-up, because for the next 2 miles, they walked on the sidewalk next to me, blaring music from a portable boombox they had. They were playing some of my favorite songs! Beyoncé, Shut Up and Dance … I was now picking up my stride and focusing on the music as we talked and they reiterated over and over how I was going to make it! I was going to be cross that finish line! Best 2 miles of the run and I couldn’t thank these strangers enough!
The Finish – (16:48:13)
I will always remember making that turn into the Olympic Oval. The crowd was roaring. People were lined all around, cheering loudly, clapping, and offering their hands for high fives. I saw some old neighbors I didn’t know were going to be there, along with Greg and Carrie, my awesome support crew for the day! It was so great seeing familiar faces after a longggg day!
And then Mike Reilly told me as I was an IRONMAN as I finally crossed the finish. 16 hours, 48 minutes and 13 seconds after I got in the water to begin the day.
I had less than 12 minutes to spare.
I’ll tell ya, the rush you get from finishing is nothing like anything in the whole, wide world! It makes me feel like I can accomplish anything – that I am stronger than I ever thought possible!! That in itself makes the day worthwhile! And … at least after pushing myself for almost 17 hours, I can say that I have a beautiful finishing photo to remind myself of what I accomplished:
(sarcasm, again ;-)) But if you look closely, you can tell I’m smiling. 🙂 …
Muchhhh better. 🙂
And I don’t think I’ve stopped smiling after becoming a 2x IRONMAN. I
was AM on CLOUD NINE.
Proof that amazing things can happen when you don’t. give. up.
… And, to test my endurance even further, after finishing around midnight, I drove home at 5 am and made it to work by 9 am! Yeah, I guess I’m a little insane! 😉
I’m not even sure where to begin, but I am so, so thankful for this experience. I am forever grateful to my sponsor, Got Chocolate Milk, for the opportunity to give IRONMAN Lake Placid a 2nd try, and for their continued support. I am thankful for my family and friends who wished me well and believed in me – your support carried me through some of the darkest parts of this race. For my friend and fellow athlete, Keith, who inspired me throughout his IRONMAN journey with his determination and passion for this sport; for doing long rides with me and pushing me to be stronger; for helping me with nutrition. (HE CROSSED THAT SAME FINISH LINE AND I COULD NOT BE MORE PROUD AND HAPPY FOR HIM!!!) I am thankful for Greg and Carrie, friends I met at my gym who were my support crew during the race. They had my back the whole time I was up in LP, tracked me throughout the day while constantly updating my parents back home, and cheered me on at various spots throughout the swim, bike, and run. For Andrea who gave me the pep talk I needed at bike special needs. Who told me I was doing fine and could still do this. For my other friends who cheered me on the sidelines. Thank you to the AMAZING volunteers who would literally do anything for you. To the lively spectators who lifted our spirits, chanted our names, and kept us going. I am grateful for my parents, who deal with my insanity when I announce my plans to do these races, and for supporting me even though they worry. … I feel like I could go on, and on. But basically, I can’t THANK EVERYONE enough! You all have impacted my race in immeasurable ways, and have made this race beyond special. For that, I am so, so grateful.
… And as I’ve been enjoying some R’n’R, I’ve already begun to ponder my next 140.6 attempt, with my new favorite cup:
I’m a happy girl right now. 🙂
AND HUGE CONGRATS TO ALL THAT RACED!! It was a very memorable weekend!