2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride, 26.2 mile ride… I did it all and I am an Ironman.
Pulling up the rear of every leg, I crossed the finish line at 12:52 a.m., after 17 hours, 22 minutes and 36 seconds of intense racing. I jogged through the finish line of the Great Floridian Ultra Triathlon with my arms raised high sheer minutes before the official cut-off time and three hours later than I thought I would.
To say this event is challenging or not for joking around would be a great disrespect. A race of this magnitude challenges your fears, your willpower, your endurance, your commitment. I felt this race in every achy joint, in my unsettled stomach, on the sunburn blistering on my leg, in tired and tight muscles, on the chaffing where it counts and in the cramps that reminded me my cycle was along for the journey.
Marathons are happy races for me. Sure, the last several miles might not feel the best, but they’re generally full of smiles and the sweet feeling of success. I typically cry the ‘I’m so proud of myself’ tears right before the finish line. In the Ironman, there was no time or energy for those happy tears. In fact, any pride or excitement of ‘wow, I’m an Ironman at age twenty-two!’ hasn’t set in yet.
I estimated a sub-15 hour finish time. Less than two hours for the swim, 6.5 for the bike and 5.5 for the run. My training said this was possible, but the hills and wind of the Clermont course had other plans. The three loops on the bike had us climbing more hills than coasting down. The wind was against us and it showed in my time. No flat surface was found.
I was the third-to-last out of the water for the swim, the last person to make the qualifying cutoff on the bike and fourth-to-last to make the qualifying cutoff for the run… and I couldn’t be more proud. I may have pulled up the end, but 140.6 miles say I am an Ironman.
Here’s how it went down:
Friday evening I drove to the course about 40 minutes away in Clermont to pick up my race packet and set up my bike. I felt the nerves inside me and the little voice that said, “you can’t do this,” as I walked past the swim area (trigger #1) toward packet pick-up. Immediately I noticed a sea of super-fit triathletes dressed in full racing gear, just lounging around. I didn’t look like these athletes and it immediately triggered my insecurities about the race (trigger #2). Then, for the last part of check-in, they took my weight. I haven’t weighed myself in months, and being on my period and preparing my body for an Ironman didn’t do great things for the scale. Weight is just a number, but seeing you gained X pounds when already doubting my physical strength the night before the biggest race of my life didn’t help (trigger #3).
Que the pre-race breakdown. I’m not strong enough. What in the world was I thinking. I’m injured. I can’t swim. Alligators are going to sense my blood and eat me. I had a good cry and let out all of the emotions and anxiety I had built up.
Preparing my transition bags took longer than expected so I ended up getting only 5 hours of sleep before the race.
I ate a peanut butter-naner sandwich with coconut water while trying to not think about the swim I was getting ready for. My new Zoot Ultra tri shorts revealed a split in the back when I put them on. I had to do a lat minute switch to my uncomfortable Pearl Izumi tri shorts.
I was a bundle of nerves getting body marked and setting up the last details in transition alone. Every thought of self-doubt about the swim and the race in general passed through my mind. It was even worse when I realized I was one of a handful of athletes without a wetsuit for the swim. I put in a tampon and hoped for the best.
Swim (Time: 2:00:13)
Thank goodness Ryan found me a few minutes before the race start. She taught me how to swim about a year ago and knew just what to say to help me calm down. I walked away from her toward the lake, ignoring the fear inside my screaming, “just quit! You could walk away right now and wouldn’t have to do any of this!”
That negative little voice had never spoken so loudly. I walked on toward the water, still terrified.
At the start of the swim for my first triathlon, the half Ironman, I had a complete panic attack when I took my first stroke. This time my breathing quickly seized up, but I was able to calm myself down easily. I reminded myself that I know how to swim, and that swimming feels good to me. A competitor gave me some kind encouragement reminding me to let the others go ahead and make the swim my own.
The rest of the swim was dreamy. It’s funny that I stress most about the swim, but it always ends up being the most calming, enjoyable leg. I was strong and consistent (albiet slow) throughout the two laps.
Transition 1 (Time: 13:14)
Eh, transition. It was my first Ironman so I didn’t care too much about my transition time. I left my bra and tri shorts on, throwing a cycling jersey on along with my cycling gear and sunblock. Having to deal with feminine issues in transition makes you care a whole lot less
Bike (Time: 8:49:12)
The bike course was guided by colored arrows painted on the pavement. I tried to confirm which color arrows the ultra course was to follow, but none of the volunteers I could get a hold of knew. It was frustrating and showed the disorganization of the race. I followed my senses on the colors and ended up confirming the course with another competitor about ten miles in.
I am strong on the bike. Even pedaling at a comfortable speed, I was still passing people. The course was three laps, with the first lap taking a different direction to travel over Sugarloaf Mountain. Most of Florida is FLAT, but Clermont is one area that will fool you. It is known for hills and lots of them. Sugarloaf Mountain is the biggest, scariest hill of them all. (Caitlin and I scaled this during our metric century but had to get off our bikes and walk up.) This time I was determined to climb the whole thing on my bike, and I did it!
Climbing a big hill only to know you’re going to have to do it two more times is rough. I swear the course was more uphill than downhill. On the last half I started to get bored and sleepy. I kept veering out of the bike lane! I stopped multiple times to do some yoga and wake myself up. The whole race was completed without an iPod, so I ended up actually singing to myself
On the bike I consumed five or six Clif bars, a PB-naner sandwich, two Gu gels, two big bottles of Gatorade and about 10 big bottles of water.
Transition 2 (Time: 11:34)
I actually didn’t bring enough food for the last leg of the bike, so when I saw cookies in the changing tent during T2 I chowed down! Maybe not the best for my belly… Again, I didn’t care too much about time. I changed out of my tri shorts and into running shorts, adding a SpiBelt (with race number attached) and Garmin.
Run (Time: 6:08:25)
I didn’t know this until another participant let me know on the bike leg, but the run course was three laps on an out-and-back trail without any lights for most of it. I started the marathon around 6:45 p.m., so most of my race was done in the dark. They handed out glow sticks and had big lights near the refreshment tents. Still, running on a course with woods on both sides and little visibility was scary!
I channeled the “I’m a runner, I’ve got this leg” vibe and jogged most of the first half of the run leg at about a 11:00 min./mi. pace. My legs usually perform well running when they’re tired. After the halfway mark my stomach was nauseous; my toes were blistered; my thighs/butt/underarms chaffed; my body was tired; and most people had finished so passing another person became more and more rare.
You could say I mastered the power walk for the last half. I’d run when I could, but my body was just so heavy that I couldn’t maintain it.
It was so odd to be running at midnight, in the dark, after a day full of intense exercise. It would make sense that I’d be sleeping at that time or cleaning out the Whole Foods hot bar. Instead, I was finishing a marathon. Crazy!
It was encouraging to see my friends Nithya and Janna cheer me on with their fun pink signs each time I’d loop and pass them. They’d walk a few minutes with me each time, taking my mind of the race for a moment.
The last lap was all about watching the clock to make sure I made it by cutoff time (1:00 a.m.). No way was I going to do all of that and then be disqualified! I kept reconfiguring my needed pace against the time. I was thrilled when I realized I had the time to just walk the last two miles. At that point walking a mile felt like a marathon on its own.
I can’t forget to include that a cop watching out for the athletes at one of the crossings asked me out on a date. Two miles left until I finish my Ironman and I get asked out on a date. Priceless!
I was excited to see Steve‘s encouraging face (and paparazzi camera!) on the last part of the run. Nithya and Janna, with signs in hand, cheered me on as I increased to a jog to cross the finish line.
And BOOM I was done.
I was hoping to have a whole “ohmygosh I just did an Ironman! This is the best thing ever!” complete with tears and self-appreciation. Instead I said, “thank God I made the cutoff time!” I was tired and hungry and hadn’t been able to take a second to think on the accomplishment I just completed. I had my medal, but I didn’t feel it’s weight just yet.
Janna drove my bike, gear and me to my car and I made the 40-minute drive home. My warm shower burned the sunburn blisters on my leg and the chaffed sores on my… umm.. rear end (my tri shorts are terrible). Finally, at 3:00 a.m., my day was over and I collapsed into bed.
The next morning I woke up before 7:00 a.m. to head to work. I actually requested to work the day after my Ironman. I was happy to get my body up and moving around, and the lack of sleep surprisingly didn’t affect me too much. After work I met a friend for dinner and then went out that night. Somehow the word “rest” was left out of my vocabulary.
In the next post I’ll blog more about I felt after the race, reflections on my training and what my recovery plan looks like. For now, this is the recap. I finished three hours later than planned. It was long and hard and not a distance to be messed with. But I did it!!!
Thank you everyone for your messages of encouragement and congratulations to me throughout this race. I haven’t had a chance to respond to any, but I definitely read them all over and over before the race when I needed to pump myself up. Your messages helped carry me through!
ps- I’m officially registered for next year’s race. I hated the bike course so much that I need to do it again!
Have you done a triathlon? Is a Ironman on your goal list?
* The ultra tri is not an Ironman-event, but it is Ironman distance.. so, after 140.6 miles, I am calling it an Ironman.
* Thank you Ryan and Steve for the photos used in this post!!