As I crossed the timing mat at the Run Exit I couldn’t help but smile. I knew without a question that I would become an Ironman tonight. I felt great and was confident that I could run the entire marathon, but also knew that I had enough time to walk if I needed to, so there was no pressure!
The run was a two loop course, 13.1 mile loops (6.55 miles out and 6.55 miles back).
The start of the run included a short jaunt along condo row before turning to start the run towards Andrew’s State Park. At the turn, I saw Douglas holding a “Run Forrest Run” sign and got a quick kiss and a fist bump before heading out to really start the run.
My legs felt phenomenal and it took a lot of discipline to make myself slow down to run 10:00 minute miles. My goal for the run was to keep it over 10:00 minute miles at the beginning and under 10:30 minute miles at the end. I am used to running fast off the bike, so the beginning felt s-l-o-w. Discipline.
My first loop of the run was congested with runners on their SECOND lap! I felt strong and a handful of fasties on their second loop passed me, but for the most part I was passing a lot of runners. At this point into the run I didn’t see many walkers or folks doing the IM shuffle. I was hopeful I would be running this same pace on my second lap.
My nutrition strategy was to take a Clif block every other mile, starting at mile 1 and to take water at the aid stations, until something else “called” to me. I have never trained with coke or chicken broth, but many athletes told me to listen to my body and if something sounded good, not to be afraid to try it (starting in small doses, of course).
Around 4 or 5 miles into the run I met someone who was also on his first lap and running close to my pace. I wish I could remember his name so I could look up his finishing time. Anyhow, we chatted for a bit (well, mostly I chatted) and we ended up running together for several miles.
The state park was the quietest part of the course, but thankfully, having run the course at the Gulf Coast Tri in May, I knew what to expect. The Ford Motivational Center was set up in the middle of the park and when I ran over the timing mat, two things happened. First, I was excited to know that my supporters watching online were getting their first update on my marathon progress and second, a message from my family came up on the screen saying “Go, Mommy go!” This was a great motivator and pick me up in the middle of the desolate park.
As we exited the park on the first lap, chatting away, we passed a couple of athletes hitting the 20 mile mark on their second loop. They jokingly asked what I was drinking because they wanted some since I was in such a good mood. I replied that “this is supposed to be fun, right?”, and that I hoped I was still in such a good mood on my second lap. I made myself take a mental snapshot of how I felt at that moment because I wanted to recall those feelings when I hit this same spot on lap 2.
Somewhere around mile 8 or 9 I lost my running buddy when he walked through an aid station and I ran through it. It was also starting to get dark at this point, so I picked up a glow necklace as I made my way towards the end of the first loop. The first/last mile of the loop is where the crowds begin to form again and this section is the easiest to run through because the music, clapping, high-fives and encouragement almost carry you. There were women dressed in leather with whips, men dressed in bikinis, little kids holding their hands out for high-fives and what seemed like thousands of spectators lining the streets.
As I approached the turn around, several spectators said things like “bring it on home” assuming I was on my second lap. I didn’t let it get me down though because I knew I would get my turn. After the timing mat at the turnaround, I stopped at Special Needs to pick up the awesome light saber that Kathleen gave me before the race. I was so thankful to have it because it was so much darker on the course than I expected.
I looked for Douglas too, but did not see him and that stressed me out. I hated the idea that he might be out there waiting for me and worrying, since he missed seeing me. I had to keep on going though, so I pushed the idea out of my head and reminded myself that Douglas would figure out what happened. All said and done, Douglas wasn’t even at the turnaround. He thought the run course was a one loop out and back (13.1 miles each way) and because of that he was worried about trying to see me at the halfway point and making it back to the finish line. I should have known that he was tracking me on Ironman.com on his phone, so he knew when to expect me at the finish line.
Next time we plan to coordinate specifically where he will be and when so that there is no confusion. We’ve never had a problem finding each other before, but there were so many spectators and it was so loud and dark, that is was difficult to find people in the crowd.
The first mile of the second loop flew by, as expected because of the crowds. I was giddy to be starting my second loop, knowing I was less than 13 miles from becoming an Ironman. I saw a couple of people I knew on the first lap and I was excited to see them again and cheer for them. There is something about seeing a familiar face that really puts an extra spring in my step. Around the 15 mile marker I made the last potty stop of the race and I was particularly grateful to have the light saber because the porta potty was pitch black. Ewww.
By this time in the run, there were a lot of walkers and I was passing more and more people. The volunteers and aid stations were fantastic and created excitement in the darkness in areas where there otherwise were not a lot of spectators. I was feeling strong, although I was starting to feel the miles. My pace for my perceived effort was decreasing and I made a concerted effort to pick up the pace within my pre-established guidelines. My goal was to make it to the 20 mile marker and then see if I could pick it up (however little!).
My training partner and I run a 2 mile loop around my neighborhood. We have run up to 18 miles on this loop and we regularly run 10 miles twice a week. When I hit the 16 mile marker, I thought to myself, “This is just a regular Tuesday morning, 10 mile run. I run those in the dark too. Piece of cake!"
Around this same time I decided I would try some flat coke instead of water at the aid stations. It sat just fine in my stomach and I decided to stick with it. I am not sure if it helped anything, but it certainly didn’t hurt.
I also decided that thinking about being tired was not going to help anything, so I started repeating (out loud), “Just keep running. Keep moving forward” over and over and over again to myself. I seriously repeated these two phrases for 8 to 10 miles. I knew my body could hold the pace and if my mind was otherwise occupied, it would have no choice but to go along with the program. The first part of the mantra is borrowed from Dory from Finding Nemo, just replace swimming with running. The second part of the mantra is borrowed from Meet the Robinsons, and I only thought of it because of the sign that Douglas made me earlier in the day.
I also repeated on occasion something I read on Beginner Triathlete – “It only hurts if you care”. One of my goals for Ironman was to run the entire marathon, so repeating this mantra kept me focused on that goal. I did, surprise, surprise, try to say hello and/or good job to anyone I passed and anyone who passed me. I got several looks for talking to myself, but I was still running, so I didn’t care!
Amazingly, before I knew it, I was entering the park again. This time it was dark. Seriously dark. Dark as the inside of a cow, dark. I was shocked by how dark it was and ultimately, how dangerous it was for the athletes. I was extremely grateful for my light saber as it definitely helped guide the way. Next time I will probably also keep a head lamp in my special needs bag.
I passed the timing mat and the Ford Motivational sign again just before hitting the 20 mile marker. I recalled how I felt just over 2 hours before and was pretty excited that my mood was equally as positive. With just over 6 miles to go, running a 10:xx something minute pace, I knew I had just over an house before crossing the finish line. I remember thinking to myself, I can do anything for an hour …
I thanked God when I exited the park and the darkness and put my light saber back on my belt. I was nervous about tripping while running in the darkness of the park, so I was happy to be running again in just the regular dark of night, with illumination provided by random street lights, car head lights, homes, etc.
The next miles were more of the same. Coke at every aid station. I was sticky from having it spill on me as I was running through the aid stations. Coke falvored Clif blocks every other mile. Mantra on repeat: Just Keep Running, Keep Moving Forward. Every once in a while, I would groan from a random pain in my legs and I would remind myself that “it only hurts if you care.”
I can’t accurately describe the excitement and adrenaline that kicked in when I hit the 24 mile marker. 2 miles to go. One loop in my neighborhood, or what we like to call the “Victory lap”. This mile marker was also around the time on the course that we were starting to get a few more spectators. Having people cheer for you and tell you look strong, makes you feel strong too.
I hit the 25 mile marker and ran into a woman who was running about my pace, if not a bit faster than me. I had picked up the pace a bit at the 24 mile marker and decided I didn’t care how fast I was going (I knew it was sub 10:00s at this point) because I knew I had enough juice left to get me to the finish line. I ran for about half a mile with this woman and we chatted a bit, but mostly kept to ourselves and focused on the finish line.
We were passing lots of spectators now who were cheering for us and we started to pass music too. We passed a stereo playing Katy Perry’s Waking Up in Vegas and we both started singing along at about the same time. It really made me smile and I picked up my pace even more.
After the brief singing break, I started repeating my mantra again. We had about a half mile to go and my pace was picking up even more. The girl that I had been running with wished me well and I wished her the same and I took off for the final stretches. I moved my light saber to the back of my tri shorts , threw my glow necklace to some spectators, and took my sunglasses from the top of my hat and put them in the pocket in the back of my tri shorts because I didn’t want those items in my finisher photo.
Somewhere shortly after, I heard something fall, presumably my sunglasses, but it was really dark and I turned around briefly and couldn’t see them, so I kept going. They were inexpensive sunglasses that were scratched up anyway, so they were not worth the search time. I guess I could have gotten a penalty for abandoning equipment, but then again, it was too dark to see them!
When I made the final turn on to the main road before the finisher chute the streets were lined with spectators. It was surreal – there were so many spectators on both sides of the road, it was wall to wall cheering people. I had no idea where Doug, Kate and the boys were going to be, so I was on alert for them.
I reached the turnaround point and crossed over a timing mat before entering the finisher’s chute for the last 100 yards of the race. It was so wonderful to turn right to the finish instead of having to start another lap. I definitely felt compassion for those near me who were about to start their second loop in the dark.
This is the 100 yards I dreamed about for 9 + months of training. 3, 4 and 5 am wake-up calls, six days a week to swim, bike and run. Endless hours of riding. 18, 19 and 20 hour training weeks. This was the moment that I always visualized … except it was louder and far more crowded!
I was overwhelmed by the lights after running in the dark for three hours and the spectators were so loud, I had no idea where to look for my family. I tried to take it all in, but it was passing too quickly, and I still hadn’t found Douglas. I heard Mike Reilly say, “From Houston, Texas, you are an Ironman!”, but I didn’t hear my name. It almost felt like a dream … and that was it. I crossed the line and I stopped running. I meant to raise my hands and smile for the finish line photo, but I was still in search mode when I ran out of real estate to look for Douglas and crossed the line, so I forgot to raise my arms.
A guy named Mike was my finish line catcher and the only reason that I remember his name is because he was wearing a name tag. He immediately congratulated me and asked how I was doing. I responded that I was fine as he walked with me to get my medal , finisher shirt and hat. When we reached the photos, he asked again how I was doing and whether I needed to go to the medical tent. I confirmed that I was ok and he held my stuff while I took my official finisher photo – I was smiling from ear to ear.
Mike gave me back my stuff and congratulated me again and he asked me if I needed anything. Hmmm … I had one major question for him, probably the most telling of how one feels after an Ironman, “What do I do now?”. Mike pointed me to the food and massage areas, gave me hug and he went back to help another finisher. Thanks, Mike!
While I still felt sort of dazed and a bit overwhelmed because of the crowd, I was on a mission to find my family. It took about 10 minutes of searching and borrowing multiple cell phones to no avail before Doug spotted me. I was so freakin happy to see him! He confirmed that everyone saw me finish and that they were screaming for me like crazy, but they were sitting higher up in the bleachers, which is probably why I didn’t see or hear them. He also confirmed that Mike Reilly did say my name, even though I didn’t hear it.
After our reunion, I went for the massage, which felt heavenly, and then I was reunited with the rest of my family. After hugs and kisses all around, we made the nearly 1 mile walk back to the condo … so, it was really 141.6 miles! After leftover pizza and a handful of cookies, I had the best night sleep of my life!
Run: 4:30:14 -- 10:19 pace