it's the one day you can do everything you like and you chose to be there - Liz
Those are the words that vibrated through my brain for 140.6 miles on Sunday, August 30, 2009. Those words, loving support and volunteers helped me get through the day and come out on the other side. I'm not sure how it changed me, that is yet to be determined. All I know is that I feel different.
Here we goooooo.....
I slept scantily on Saturday night; going in and out of consciousness. At 2:00 a.m., Chris’ alarm went off, my signal to take my Synthroid and go back to sleep until 3:00 a.m. After eating breakfast I obsessively checked my Special Needs bags for the 487th time. We met Michael and Becky in the lobby about 4:45 and started our journey to the transition area. My usual pattern is that I feel okay until about 10 minutes before start time so I was still feeling clear and focused. I got my nutrition put on my bike and checked my tires one last time - all good. A stop at the port-a-potties, drop off the Special Needs bags and we were ready to start the trek down to the swim start. It was quite a hike in flip flops and it was a bit on the nippy side. We got our body marking done than continued on to get our place in line. I got in line at the port-a-potties again while Chris, Michael and Becky found a place in line. There were athletes asleep on the sidewalk and I don't think we could've gotten any better spot unless we had camped out there. We ended up being about halfway down. I really needed to go one more time, but there was a VERY long line for the only port-a-pottie in close range. It was a really bad sign to see that many guys in line so I headed to the fence with a ziplock bag and did my business with the guys. It's always the most amazing thing to me how fast the smallest amount of fluid goes through me on race mornings. I got back in line and pulled my speed suit on the rest of the way and Chris zipped me up. I had my gel and took a salt tab. I was following my plan nicely. The line started moving and my stomach clenched up. I couldn't believe it was time. I got my swim cap on, goggles in place, my flip-flops off and soaked up how alive my growing nervousness made me feel. This was a time trial swim start and it was really nice to have Chris beside me. Matt came by and collected our Morning Clothes bags to take them back to the hotel. All of the sudden we were running down the ramp and jumping in the water. I started my stopwatch and tried to get in as gingerly as possible, but ended up feeling like I was being forced to walk the plank. So I held my goggles on tight and went for it. It took a couple of seconds to resurface and once I did I saw someone jump on Chris' head. That sort of freaked me out a little, but he was fine. I took a deep breath and started as calmly as I could. I swung out as far right as possible so I could stay out of heavy traffic. The swim out went really well. There was even a bizarre scene where the water had gotten very warm and there people standing and walking – IN THE OHIO RIVER!!!!! Some sort of “sandbar”. I decided it would be faster to keep swimming. I could feel my swim cap coming off so I pulled it back down as quickly as I could. I just kept thinking, “I’m doing a freakin’ Ironman and I’m swimming in the Ohio River”! I finally saw the red buoy signaling the turn and I just knew that I could really relax after that since we would be going with the current. I was very careful to stay out on the edge and things were still going well. I noticed that I started to drift closer to the buoys and was starting to get knocked around. I looked back before I started to go right and had to "go with the flow" for a bit before traffic cleared. I finally got back out in the clear and was going pretty good then I noticed that there were some pretty big rolling waves. I got a little nauseated, but I slowed down a little just kept right on rolling. For some reason I decided to check my swim cap again and this time it was almost all the way off. In fact, my goggles were the only thing holding it on my head. Let me tell you, trying to get my swim cap back on while treading water with my legs in the middle of 1,000 people swimming around me was like trying to put my shoes on standing in the middle of rush hour traffic. After I got it as situated as I could under the circumstances I took off swimming again and noticed that my hair was now caught in the zipper of my speed suit. I just sucked it up and kept going, I thought, “this is probably the least painful thing I will have to deal with today so I can handle it”. I kept sighting on the RR bridge, but it wasn’t seeming to get any closer. I finally reached the bridge and could hear the crowds and announcer and that was very motivating. I knew I was going to make it out of the water! Things got really rough at the turn and people were really aggressively trying to get to the swim exit. I finally emerged from the water and heard the announcer say, “Rebecca Irons. What a great name, I love it”. Boy did I need that!
I grabbed my bike gear bag and headed to the changing tent. I was greeted by a very enthusiastic volunteer. I almost felt like I was being rushed and I just needed to get my bearings after that woozy swim. I still felt pretty dizzy, but I wasn’t going to refuse the help though. I probably looked like I desperately needed it. Before I knew it she had my socks and shoes on me. I had my “to do” list taped to my bag, but it felt like it was happening so fast. I realize that my transition time was very slow in reality. I used the port-a-pottie and opted for the sunscreen that the volunteers were applying. It felt like she was rubbing me down with paste. She apologized and assured me that it would soak in. I unsuccessfully tried to “scrape” it off with my hand. I finally gave up when I noticed that everyone else was sporting the same pastey look.
Stay out of your own way...
I grabbed my bike and left the transition area. I hopped on my bike at the mount line and had no trouble clipping in. I started out slow and immediately took in a gel, a salt tab and got some sports drink down. I was feeling very good and let people just wiz by me, careful not to get caught up in their excitement. I knew I would see some of them somewhere out on course again later. I spun up the first climb while watching people just hammer it in a big gear. I made a left turn I thanked the volunteers and one of them said, “You rock! Can you believe you’re doing this?”. I told her not even in my wildest dreams. I finally made it to the branch off and knew I was in for some climbing. More people passed me and I let it happen. I was really concentrating on staying on top of my nutrition no matter what. That descent into the valley was SUUUHWEEEET! I knew what was coming, though. I started seeing some of those hammerheads already from that first climb. I made the turn around and saw Chris as he was descending. This confused me because I never see him until the run, but he was behind me this time. I climbed out of the valley and finally made it to the beginning of the loop. A guy who was passing me early in the loop said, “We just got lapped by a female pro”. It was pretty cool, but she seemed to think nothing of drafting off the age grouper in front of her. I later heard from Jo that she saw the same thing. I was still feeling great, but I needed to potty. So, I took the time to stop at the aid station and refilled any fluids I needed. Comfort is EVERYTHING in endurance sports. I thanked the volunteers and was back on my way. It was very hard to ride past the Special Needs Station on the first time through. It was unreal going through LaGrange, though. The crowd was huge and made you feel like a superstar! The next section past LaGrange was pretty uneventful and lonely and I noticed my knees were absolutely screaming. I got a little worried about the run at that point, but shook it off. I had also noticed a lot of riders changing flats. The word is that there were some locals who don’t appreciate that they close some streets off for an entire day so they throw “things” in the road. Most of the streets are open to vehicular traffic still, so I’m not sure why they felt the need to do that. I understand it was Sunday and they wanted to go to church and all, but that just doesn’t seem to be a very Christian-like thing to me. I came around to start my second loop and was still right on with my nutrition. So I stopped for another pee break and refill. I knew that the Special Needs Station was right around the corner so I looked forward to that. When I made it there, the volunteer that was helping me was great, but I finally just told her that I was not in a hurry. She just smiled and said, “So you’re just out here enjoying the day?”. I replied that I wanted to savor every minute of this and take it all in. She smiled at me again, I thanked her and I was on my way. I was feeling pretty good and just as I was thinking how unreal it was that I still felt so good a guy passed me and proceeded to “give back” all the fluids he had just taken in – IN THE WIND IN FRONT OF ME no less! What a jerk. I know things happen out there out of your control, but surely you can feel that coming on. Don’t pass someone and toss your cookies (or juice) in the wind when you get around them. It’s just not right. He did his business and took off – good riddance. I played cat and mouse with a guy in a Team Aquaphor kit for about 5 miles and the hills eventually got to him and he fell back, but then passed me one last time. I KNEW that I would see him on the run. I was approaching the last aid station and there was a black car that pulled over and the passenger stuck his hand out of the window and someone actually handed him a Gatorade! Then they stopped all of the sudden a little further up and I and the guy next to me almost ran right into the back of him. We just started yelling, “Go! Go! Go!”. Some people don’t deserve a license. I was so ready to be off my bike and actually looking forward to being on the ground running when I finally saw the transition area.
I dismounted my bike and happily handed it off to a volunteer. I took my shoes off, grabbed my run gear bag and ran into the changing tent. I visited the port-a-pottie (a very good sign that I was hydrated). This transition took even longer than the first one. This time I got a volunteer that emptied my bag for me and left me to my own devices, which is probably why it took longer. I just wanted to have the most comfortable run possible. I slathered Biofreeze on my knees and low back and used my own sunscreen this time! I felt more organized and together when I left the changing tent that final time.
Give NOTHING up, DNFing is totally NOT an option!
I walked down the isle out of the transition area and started running when I saw the timing mat. I made an honest effort to keep my pace easy and comfortable. I was happy to have my feet on the ground and made my way up the river bridge. I was surprised how quickly the 1 mile sign came up and how many people were walking at that point. And as predicted, I even the Aquaphor guy. I felt great and tried to maintain my pace. I was still trying to stay on my nutrition, but it was getting to that difficult point where NOTHING tasted good. I continued to eat the gels, drink the Gatorade and down the salt tabs. I knew I wouldn’t get very far if I didn’t follow what I had done through all that training. I saw Jo first going in the opposite direction and looking strong. Then I saw David going the opposite direction and he told me that Chris was right in front of me. I felt another wave of motivation at hearing those words. I kept my eyes open and looked for the orange cap. Still feeling great I finally spotted him at mile 9 or 10. I was careful to contain my excitement and held my pace. He was walking and I wanted him to run with me, but I knew he had to make that decision on his own and I had to run my own (first) marathon. I asked him how he was doing and he said he was feeling good and not to worry about him, that it was going to be a very long night. I decided to go on and I heard a woman ask him if we were doing the Ironman together and said she thought it was sweet. I noticed a woman on the side of the street with a sign that read, "Death before DNF!" - Amen, Sista! I stopped at the next aid station to pee and get some fluids. My trend for the first half was aid station, pee, water and Gatorade. I took a salt tab every hour and was feeling great and passed on my Special Needs bag, I had decided to rely on the aid stations. It was both amazing and disheartening to see the finish line and not be able to go there. So close and yet so far! I looked at the time and I knew I was not going to make my goal time of 13.5 hours, but I was okay because I knew I was going to finish no matter what. I went out for my second lap and saw Chris again and he said he still felt okay, but he would be walking the rest of the way and didn’t know if he would make the cut off. I was pretty emotional at that point because fatigue was setting in and I just wanted to cry when he told me that. I assured him that he had enough time and he needed to keep going. I gave him a kiss and told him that I love him and off I went. I had a serious talk with the universe at that point and pleaded to have a divine intervention with Chris. How could I finish and him not finish? I worried that he was going to just throw in the towel. My pace was slowing, but I continued to run. My feet were on fire and my knees felt like they were going to buckle, but mentally I was very strong. A couple of times I felt the familiar feeling of passing out wash over me and I just downed more fluids and ate. I kept hope of seeing Chris again and even started to cry a couple of times. Then out of the darkness I saw that familiar swagger and my heart leapt and as he passed me he said, “I can’t stop walking because it hurts too much”. I told him I understood, I was able to relax and just get it done. At about mile 20 it became really unfun and I felt the happiness I had been able to maintain sliding off of my face. I couldn’t stop at the last 2 aid stations because it hurt too much to walk and start running again. I started to be able to hear the crowd and the announcer. I knew I was within blocks of that finish line! I started to have an out-of-body experience and pain left my body as I floated closer to the chute. More and more people and all the sudden a flood of lights and I couldn’t contain myself anymore. I raised my arms and felt the energy from the people permeate me! I looked at a man in the crowd and asked, “How does my hair look?”. He said, “Fabulous!”. This was what it was all about this whole time. I though I was going to pee on myself I was so excited. I waited to hear those words, but, alas it was not to be. I thought with the last name of Irons, he would be sure to say it. However, I don’t need to hear those words to know that I did it. Will I do another one? You bet! Yes, I may have missed my goal time by a little more than an hour, but you know what? I got to savor and enjoy the entire experience and that’s what it was about for my first Ironman. I couldn’t have asked for more.
Rebecca Irons, YOU are an Ironmaaaaaan!