THOUGHTS DURING IRONMAN ARIZONA 2017
People have asked me what I think about while I’m out there. What goes through my head? Are you afraid? Do you wanna quit? I thought I’d give a snapshot of honestly what’s going on, unvarnished but certainly incomplete – 12 hours would be a lot to write about. Sorry so long – feel free not to read. My thoughts are in quotation marks and italics.
“Do I have everything? Where the entrance to get into transition?” I incorrectly tell my Sherpa Mom where to go and wait. But there’s Maria Elena to save the day and get here. I go through my checklist of things to do at my bike. Help another athlete, pass the pump off to Mom, and take care of everything else on the list. I head towards the Special Needs drop-off and see the portapotty line. “That line isn’t bad – I’m going NOW!” After finding a tree to wrap my resistence cords around for a warm up I focus on getting 4 sets of 20-25 pulls in so my lats will be ready. “They’re starting to get sore and tired. Time to rest and then the next set.” Then “Oh, look at those people in the warm changing tent putting on wetsuits.” I join them.
I stand in line for the swim. “Should I move up? Am I seeded about right?” The national anthem is sung. “10-12 minutes until age groupers start. I want to start pouring water down my wetsuit ‘cause I gotta pee. Ooo, that’s cool water. Pour some more. Is my cap on right? How are my goggles? Is the right eye in the right position?” It’s been leaking every time I’ve swum lately. “Almost go-time. This is it – time to execute. Line is moving. What stairs will I go down? Go!”
“Here we go!” I move through the opening and down the stairs and jump into the water. “Swim! Is that an open spot? Avoid those swinging arms and kicking feet. Find a clear spot. Stay to the right for a shorter swim.” I plan to swim closer to the buoys as I move down the course due to the course contour. “Where am I? Am I off course? Why is this person repeatedly swimming into me. THEY must be swimming crooked… or is it me? Nope, there’s the buoy. Oops, I swallowed some gross water. Am I going too hard? Relax your kick. No cramps. Keep it going.”
“Red turn buoy is next. Am I lined up for the turn? How many people are around me?” I decide to cut close to the turn buoy. I pass under the Rural Rd bridge and look up to see if anyone is up there watching. “Damnit, swallowed a little more water. Why are those swimmers so far over to the right? Am I taking the wrong line?” I decide I’m not and continue to stick fairly close to the buoys. “How’s my pace? I’m breathing fine. Is that a kayak or the buoy? There’s the Mill St bridge! Stay calm - it’s farther away that it seems. Final turn buoy! Where’s the stairs? I can’t see the stairs [repeat multiple times].” Mentally I’m rehearsing what I’m going to do to get the wetsuit off. “Getting close. Find your spot. There. That stair looks uncrowded.” I start to think about the volunteers and wanting to give them an even distribution of swimmers. I scold myself, “Just PICK one!”
Run up to volunteers, hand off my goggles, get help with wetsuit top over my head and taking shoulder straps off. I leave the legs on, get the goggles and top, and start jogging to grab the bag and hit the tent. The volunteer yells out my number - 1019. “I’m in the 2nd row of bags. There’s mine. Pick it up.” I beat the volunteer. Changing tent is noisy, busy, warm, and frantic. Find a chair and start changing. Volunteer offers help. Run through what I’ve planned: “Quickly dry arms, chest, and stomach. Pull on arm warmers.” I hear guy next to me ask volunteer if he can find a towel. “Here, I’m done with mine. Socks and shoes on. Grab nutrition. I don’t need that HotShot bottle. Walk and jog out of the tent to the bike. Shake and drink my drink. 9th rack – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9. The sign …1011.” Volunteer going down row with me for my bike. “I’ve got it.” Actually I don’t have it as I reach for the wrong one. ‘Here it is’, she says. She pushes my bike, I finish my drink and trade her my empty bottle for the bike and run out well past the mount line and 4 other riders, do a running mount, and am off.
“Uh oh, it’s windy already. Settle into a steady pedal. Temp is warm, better than usual. How long should I leave my arm sleeves on? I’m getting rid of the paper bag at the first aid station. What’s wrong with my HR strap? AGAIN?! SH&%! It has a new battery. 86 – 87 – 86 – 89… why’s it not reading heart rate? Pull strap away from chest – come on, get working. Nope, no change. Wait!... the 2nd number displayed is CADENCE, not HR! Haha! Idiot! I’m in Zone 2. Keep it steady. Am I going too hard? Uphill AND into the wind? Come on – this is slower than expected. Hope the wind pushes me downhill at the turnaround. Pass that guy; keep the pace so he can drop back without slowing. There’s a group of 4 riders. Just watch them, don’t pass, wait. Patience! Save yourself. Cheat! That guy is just a wheel suck. Hey!” I yell. I let them move ahead but later I am close to them again and decide to pass. “Keep pressing, get some clearance, get ahead. Don’t kill yourself – long way left to go. Ah, the turnaround. Come on wind – wow, hitting 33 already. Back to Tempe.”
“Nice Star Wars aid station… Princess Leia – nice buns. The end is FAR – best sign so far! Another sign – Y’all are MF-ers! – Ironman Finishers! [M is an M-dot] – THAT’S the best sign!”
“I need water at next aid station. Slow down, smooth handoff. Squeeze it into frame reservoir; last chance trash can; toss. Don’t hit anyone; don’t get the volunteers wet. Thank you!” I yell. “Mental checklist: relax shoulders, tuck head, stretch neck and shoulders, nutrition, full pedal strokes, aero, how hard am I going?”
“End of 1st loop – YES! Love this noise coming into 2nd loop. Hmm, back not feeling great. Starting to hurt in aero. Sit up and get relief, then back to aero.” I shift around, changing positions, trying for relief. No solutions seem to last for more than a few seconds. “Gotta pee. Stop at turnaround. Maybe kill 2 things at once. Nope, back pain relief was good for about 2 minutes. I won’t make it if I don’t sit up. This isn’t gonna be good for my time!” I ride upright for the rest of the bike. Every time I test aero position it begins to hurt within 2 minutes. "This sucks; my worst IMAZ ride yet. This is my last one." I continue to take in nutrition, probably getting 1500 cal in, a little short of plan. “Come on, do what you can. Almost finished – what a relief! Open shoes. Pull feet out and place on top. Cruise down to the dismount line, smiling at spectators. Slow bike, get off, hand off bike, grab bike computer.”
With bike computer in hand I run 2 steps and then slow to a mummified, stiff walk. Back and legs are wasted. “They handed me my bag, yay! There’s an empty space. I’ll sit.” Can’t speak coherently to volunteer who offers to help. Still, he gets my shoes and socks ready. “There’s some kids at the water jug. Can you fill this bottle?” They do. I decide not to change socks and not use Aquaphor. “Keep moving, race belt on, grab your nutrition. Thanks for filling my bottle! Portapottie pee. Back thru tent and onto the run. Start watch, drink nutrition, take caffeine; can't believe I forgot it for the 2nd ½ of the bike!”
“Walk, jog, legs a bit off. Walk, run, walk, run. It’s warm, not hot. Ice in hat.” Each mile changes – one feels bad, the next one feels good. Then a mediocre one and so on. Calories and hydration working as planned and grab some Red Bull. “Heart rate is good. What’s my pace. Let's see… math calculation. Why do I keep missing my split?”
2nd loop. “Posture. Hands up - lead with elbows. Keep looking for form. I feel lousy. Those 2 miles weren’t very good. Nutrition… blah! Ice in hat. Grab pretzels. Gross! Spit them out. Try cola next. Okay, it’s cola and water and ice in the hat – that’s it. It’s time to just survive this. I feel bad. I suck. I’m NEVER doing this again. Just finish.” I throw up on the side of the path. Someone says now you’ll feel better! “I don’t feel good… you’re wrong,” I think.
"Should I shift to 'survival mode'? My bike was so slow, what's the point?" My support team overrides my ‘survival mode’, yelling at me with encouragement. I press on and feel better for 2-3 miles. “What am I doing? Just keep going. You don’t know what will happen.” It’s getting to be dusk. My support team yells at me on the far side of the river. Linda tells me something about being ½ mile behind 3rd place and ½ mile ahead of 5th. With a few miles left I keep digging. I cut back on how long I walk through aid stations. I keep running with Linda’s words ringing in my head. “Okay, I want to stay ahead of 5th. He’s chasing me. Keep pushing. Love this pain. Don’t let them down. It hurts!” I push relentlessly to the end. “Choose the shortest distance. The whole road is open. I don’t care that no one else is off to the right side. Shorter is better.” Periodically during the final miles, when pain is heavy, I chant: “I love Linda”, timing words with foot strikes.
Final turn up the hill to Rio Salado and the finishing chute. “Flag. Maybe I shouldn’t get it. Don’t want to waste even seconds. I’ll skip it this time and save it for the podium if I get there.” Still, I tell a woman who’s running even with me to make sure she stays ahead of me so I don’t ruin her finish picture with the flag, just in case. “Nope, there it is. Genna and Maria Elena. Perfect handoff. Yes! Run! Run! Run hard to the end” with Team Challenge flag flying.
Dry heaves and delirious, 2 volunteers are holding me up, very concerned. I get them to walk me to the railing where Linda is waiting. We hug and cry and say words. They tell her they’re taking me to the medical tent. “Oh my! Tough final miles! Did it!”
Got within 2 minutes of 3rd place and 5th place didn’t gain on me. It was a lot of pain and a lot of determination to overcome, which made it all worth it in my mind. It would NEVER have happened without Linda telling me that information with excitement and forcefulness and reminding me that I’m there to leave it all out there on the course.