Swim bike run. In that order. 140.6 miles in one day. I’d signed up for it 12 months in advance. I’d done the training well in advance. I’d spent as much time in the water as I could b/c I’m not much of a swimmer. You can’t win the race in the water but you can certainly lose it there. Not that I planned on winning the race. But when doing the Ironman, to finish is to win. And all I wanted to do was to finish w/ a respectable time. I’d been on a bike for a hundred miles quite a few times b/f. I’d run marathons and beyond plenty of times. But would I be able to put it all together in one day? How would I feel at mile 130? There was a lot of unknown territory. But I always want to find out what’s out there. I enjoy pushing myself to the brink and beyond. You can’t find out what you’re all about by sitting on the couch and watching tv all day. So after 12 months of waiting, planning and training, it’s suddenly 2:45 am and the alarm is going off and it’s time to see how fast I can push myself through 140.6 miles in one day. Was this for real?
I’ve trained myself not to be nervous and not to think about the mileage. You can’t think about it. It’ll kill you. Just show up and go like hell when the cannon goes off. All it is, is a nice long day doing exactly what you love and enjoy doing w/ about 2,900 other people. It’s a giant celebration of Life. Simple, huh?
Take your time through the swim / is what you’d been telling yourself all along. But when the canon goes off, you begin racing. You have one speed and it’s GO speed. But to make it through a mass swim start w/ 2,900 people taking off at the same time, it’s going to take some patience and some guts. It’s complete chaos and it is certainly a contact swim. It’s everyone fighting for themselves. You spend an hour and a half trying not to get kicked. People are haphazardly swimming over the top of each other and pushing others right underwater. Many people get goggles kicked off, black eyes, even broken noses or dislocated shoulders during the swim portion of IM. It’s dangerous and you’re left to fend for yourself out there. If you’re a shaky swimmer, it can be a lot of work. But you manage to hang in there. You exit the water at about 1:28. You are in fourteen-hundred-something place w/ a lot of catching up to do. They have volunteers that help pull your wetsuit off (you hold onto your shorts so that they don’t come w/) and then you run up the helix of Monona terrace to T1. Again, volunteers grab your gear for you and help you put it on for the bike ride. Run to the bike, mount up and get ready for a six plus hour ride. 112 miles of hills. IM WI is a seriously hilly course. One of the hilliest IM bike courses out there. The crowd support out there is fantastic. People line the roads and cheer the cyclists on. People dress up and hold crazy signs for the event. It’s as if they’ve been waiting all year for you to come out and bike through their town. You are both impressed and humbled. You were praying you wouldn’t suffer a flat tire while on the bike at any point. You don’t. Your chain falls off at one point while you are pushing it up a big hill. You have to abruptly stop to put it back on. About ten guys behind you are not happy about that. At one point there is someone ahead of you that hit a bump in the road and lost a CO2 cartridge. When it hit the road it hisses and flies all over the road and bounces up and comes about an inch away from your face while you happen to be taking a drink from your water bottle. A near accident that could have been fatal. A dude behind you w/ a South American accent said / That was close man!
You are happy to see the hundred mile marker but the last 12 miles seem to go on forever. Especially when you know the hardest part is yet to come. You’ve been going balls out for seven hours now. And it’s about to get REAL. Don’t think about it. Don’t think about it. When you drop the bike off, you run into transition and notice many people can’t run after the long bike ride. Their legs are in trouble. You’d trained your legs for this. A volunteer helps your through transition. He asks how you feel?
I’m about to run a marathon / you tell him. That’s all you can say. That’s all you can think. You put your running shoes on and run out of the building. The crowd goes crazy b/c you’re running and not walking or limping like most. At that point, you see a few of your family members and friends who are there to cheer you on. That gives you a boost. You slap hands w/ them. You want to stop and tell them how your day is going but you can’t. Your body is already in survival mode and you know you must get this thing done as soon as possible b/f you stop and chat w/ anyone. If you stop, you may not be able to get going again. Considering everything, your legs don’t feel that bad. But your heart rate is out of control. You keep a slow pace and cadence, hoping your heart rate will calm down. But truth be told…your heart rate is through the roof for about 10 miles of the run. Again, the crowd support is phenomenal. Every time you see someone you know and they call your name out—it gives you an instant boost and reaffirms your mission. You know you’ll be able to finish but this run is going to be a serious grind. One foot in front of the other. Don’t think about it. Don’t think about it. Many people are walking and struggling just to maintain that. You are not going to walk no matter what. Your initial goals were to finish while it was still light out and to run the marathon w/out walking. But as you check you watch, it looks like you may be able to finish in under 12 hours. You want it. You can taste it. If you can only hold on w/ a slow and easy pace. Hold on. Hold on. One foot in front of the other. Ignore the pain. Push. Push. Push. It’s tough. You are hurting bad but not thinking about it. Your mind is nowhere and you are moving. By the time you make it to mile 20 of the run, you put the visor of your cap down and don’t want to see anything. Don’t want to see anyone. Don’t want to see mile markers. Just need to get to the end. You don’t look up for at least four miles. You’ve pushed yourself through almost 140 miles of pain. HARD doesn’t describe it. PAIN doesn’t describe it. It’s beyond all of that and into the realm of spiritual journey. It’s a life changing event that you will carry w/ you always and forever. People are calling your name and cheering for you and all you can do is look at the ground and grind this thing out until the end. You know your family and friends are a half mile away and your body is screaming for you to stop and walk it in. You are literally wondering if you can make it to the finish. W/ a half mile to go! The crowd is going crazy. You are mere blocks away. But putting one foot in front of the other is becoming impossible. You have a little incline to run up and it feels like a mountain. And then finally…there it is. It’s what you’ve been waiting for for 12 hours. For 140.6 miles. For 12 months of training. That glorious finish line. Suddenly, you’re infused w/ energy and you take off. You scream. You cry. You put your hands in the air. You are elated. Exhausted. Happy. Sad. If you could bottle up that feeling and sell it—you would be a rich man w/ the worlds best drug at your disposal. Yes! Yes! Yes! This is easily one of the best and hardest days of your Life! You hear your name and they scream at you—YOU ARE AN IRONMAN! They take pictures of you. Friends and family are there and happy and crying for you. You broke 12 hours. 11 hours and 58 minutes. Four-hundred something place doesn’t sound all that glorious but that means you passed a thousand people on the bike and the run. You did it. You did it. You did it. No one can ever take that away from you. It’s 7 pm and you just completed and Ironman. 140.6 miles.
Your family is teary eyed. Your friends can’t believe you did it. Everyone hugs you. You wander off to some bushes and vomit. You pay a visit to the medical tent. They take your vitals and tell you you’ve lost 9 pounds that day. To you—it’s awesome. You’ve never puked after a run. At least not since the 7th grade when you ran the mile. To you, it’s just another award or a trophy. One more thing to brag about. Proof that you pushed through and endured. Proof that you dug deeper than you ever have b/f. And that’s what it’s all about. Right? Right?