Monday, August 29, 2016

Ironman Recap

Hello blog readers!  Finally I am getting my Ironman recap done.  I swear my body is STILL recovering from what was one of the hardest events of my life.  Totally worth it!

If you read my last blog post, you know that the months of training included much studying for what would be the biggest test of my life in interviewing for Delta Air Lines.  The interview was a success, to say the least.  I got my conditional job offer on 8/3/16 and shifted my mental focus to doing Boulder to the best of my ability.

I’ll break it down into five separate segments – pre-race, the swim, the bike, the run, and post-race.  Here we go.

Pre-Race (Sunday)
We woke up at the butt-crack of dawn, as usual.  Even earlier than normal this morning so we could make breakfast and get up there to catch the buses to the reservoir.  T also had to drop some things off in her special run needs.  We got our final stuff loaded in the car and made the drive to Boulder.

Once T got her stuff dropped in her special needs, we boarded the bus.  I was a bit apprehensive about T being on a bus due to what happened at Silverman last year and the Colorado ½ marathon this year, but thankfully, she felt no nausea this time around. 

We arrived at the reservoir.  Walking to our bikes, we saw Curtis and Lisa who informed me that my sensor should be on my bike.  Yay!  We also saw Randy and got body marked early.  Then we got into trans to get our food on our bikes and tires pumped + sunscreen.  It was definitely overcast and I hoped/prayed it would stay that way all day.  We saw a couple of Macca X members and chatted.  Overall, it was a typical tri morning.  I tried listening to music, but found it made me more anxious than usual, so I ditched the headphones.

T and I hit the porta-potties again before we joined the swim line.  Unlike IMAZ, Boulder would be doing a rolling swim start.  We both wanted to seed ourselves in the 1:30-1:45 wave.  I thought I would be doing about a 1:35 swim due to the lack of swim training I’ve had this year, so it was a good spot to be in.  While in the swim line, I hiked my wetsuit up a bit closer to the crotch and I heard a loud rip!  My wetsuit finally gave way with a sizeable hole in the crotch.  I knew I could race with it, but this would be the last race.  T and I had our moment before she peeled herself to the back of the wave, whereas I would be at the front of it.  I kissed her, wished her luck, and made my way to my spot.

Before hitting the water, I had a brief moment with Mike Reilly.  He hugged me and said he’d see me at the finish line.  I was quite emotional.  The culmination of everything had come together that morning.  I had worked so hard for Delta, and I had gotten it.  I had worked hard to come to the finish line of Ironman, and here I was.  With that in mind, I hit the water and began my quest to finish my 2nd Ironman!

The Swim
I was emotional for the first 200 meters, choking back tears.  It seemed almost surreal that I was there.  The failure of Silverman was behind me.  Sure, I was undertrained, but I was there, with everyone else.  I had just been hired at Delta.  I was fucking invincible.  So I put the emotion aside, the pain of the past few months, and put my head down to swim.

Pretty early in the swim, I felt thirsty.  Not sure where that came from, but yeah.  I found myself having plenty of open space, until I didn’t.  I kept swimming over people.  Or I would come up on a person, and they would match my pace, not letting me pass.  More than once I would have to turn on the jets to blow by them. 

At the first turn, I encountered seaweed from the floor of the reservoir.  While it felt weird, it didn’t deter me.  Also, unlike IMAZ, I didn’t see anyone backstroking or floating.  I kept my head peeled for our friends Curtis and Lisa who were stand up paddleboarding, but never saw them.  Boo.

Turning inbound to the shore, I was never more ready to get out of the water.  I kept the discipline of never looking at my watch and continued passing people. 

I could hear the music and finally my hand hit the sand.  I stood up, gained my balance, and exited the water.  Like in 2013, I felt like I hadn’t even really worked out.  I found a wetsuit stripper, had it yanked off me, and ran to the change tent of T1. 

Swim Time – 1:29:19

I moved faster in this T1 than I did in Arizona.  I schnarfed some Clif Shot Blocks while I was getting everything together.  I quick ran out, grabbed my bike, ran though the rest of transition, and hopped on. 

T1 Time – 7:46

The Bike
I knew the first 20 miles of the bike would be an up and down grind.  But thanks to training the course, I knew where to hit it hard, where to back off.  When to eat, when to drink.  Advantage, me!

Early in the bike, I was surprised at how many people I was overtaking.  I also stuck to my nutrition plan.  So really, the first 15-20 miles of the bike are nothing exciting to report.  I was surprised that on the downhills, I was a bit slower than I had been in training.  Even so, I was hitting my sports with a faster mph than in training.  Woo!

Turning onto the familiar J, I was dismayed to see the sun come out.  Unfortunately, our overcast layer was gone.  It burned off super quick too.  Seriously?  Thanks mother nature.

When I turned onto the diagonal, I assessed where I was.  The clouds were gone, so I knew it’d heat up quickly.  I also began feeling bloated.  Not sure if it was due to drinking the res water or what, but I was having trouble getting food down.  It stayed down fine, but it was the act of eating and drinking that was hard.  I forced liquid down, but food was just not happening.  However, I didn’t worry too much about it.  There would be places to jam in calories.  Turning onto Highway 36, I looked at my watch, saw I was about 1:30 into the ride, so no problem.  I was ready to hammer.  Then I saw something I’ll never forget.  Stopping my bike, I saw the carnage that lay in front of me.

There was an athlete down.  A female.  I recognized her; not that I knew her personally, but she had passed me at around mile 15 of the bike.  Her kit was torn up pretty good.  There were scrapes on her back and legs.  Her bucket was broken in half.  Not cracked, but literally in two separate pieces on the ground.  Her bike was mangled.  She was lying facedown on the asphalt, and blood was beginning to pool out of her head.  There were 4-5 riders that had stopped and two of them were knelt down next to her.  I put my own race on hold for the moment.  The race meant nothing. 

I asked a nearby volunteer if she had contacted medical personnel and she said she did.  I also told her to start asking the stopped traffic if there was a doctor or nurse in any of the cars.  Us as cyclists had no means to help out the fallen athlete and I knew the worst thing we could have done would have been to try to move her.  I also realized there was nothing I could do.  I elected to take a deep breath, say a few curses at the horrible thing that had happened, and resume my race.

I pedaled away, the gusto and bravado out of my body.  I had no energy.  I had no willpower.  I started crying.  I feared for T’s safety.  After all, if this cyclist got hit, who is to say T couldn’t?  Briefly, I considered pulling out of the race.  Everyone would have understood.  I truly didn’t know at that point if I would have the willpower to continue.  I decided to dedicate the rest of my race to the fallen athlete, whose name I didn’t know.  I said a prayer, hoping she’d be okay. I told myself that there was nothing I could do.  Maybe all she had was a broken nose.  Etc.  It was a feeble attempt to convince myself, but nonetheless, I kept pedaling.

The climb up Nelson Road has been well documented, so I won’t rehash it too much.  It’s a brutal 4 mile grind.  It takes awhile.  It’s soul-crushing.  And on that day, it unfortunately wasn’t any different.  The sun was high overhead and it was hot, so you could describe it as a boiler room or the bowels of Hell.  Perseverance was the name of the game.

Off Nelson (for the first time), I began the long descent on Highway 36.  With the fallen athlete still fresh in my mind, I did this much more cautiously than normal.  On good training days, I’ll hit 40+ mph without even thinking.  This day, I refused to push.  I couldn’t shake the feeling of what I had seen. 

The next part of the ride is mostly a blur.  I remember getting to bike special needs and quick stopping for some sunscreen, potato chips (Jimmy Johns Salt and Vinegar for the win!), and Sprite.  However, it was pretty obvious that most of my appetite had vanished.  Between the horrible bloat I was having and being still incredibly rattled by the crash, I just didn’t eat much.  I grabbed my emergency bag of Sour Patch Kids and stuffed em in my tri tank pocket.  I figured sugar could get me through the rest.

Coming back up the J and diagonal was difficult.  I was hurting.  My mind wasn’t into the ride.  I just wanted to be done.  I went down 36 again and saw Boulder FD hosing off the highway.  I was still hoping that the athlete was okay.  I hadn’t gotten any update and truth be told, I wasn’t ready to hear.

The second climb up Nelson was horrible.  I’ll just say it.  It was bad.  I saw more than one cyclist pulled over on one of the hills, just hurting.  I refused to stop; if I did, I wasn’t getting back on my bike.  The heat was definitely pushing me to my limit.  I really regret not wearing my arm coolers that day. Both T and I made the decision not to wear them and that was not smart. 

Continuing on the bike course, I was mostly out of aero at this point.  I was hoping around mile 100 to get the happy Zen feeling I got in Arizona, but it never came.  Instead, every pedal stroke hurt.  I was so bloaty and dehydrated.  I just wanted off the bike.  Arizona’s bike was enjoyable save for about 25 miles.  This bike was awful.  Turning onto the Boulder side roads to get up to transition was a very wonderful feeling, even though I still faced a marathon in front of me and a ridiculously long T2.

Bike Time – 7:17:30

T2 was ridiculously long.  You run your bike about .2 miles.  So in bike shoes, clomping like a damn horse, feels ridiculous. I was tired and wanted to just get my bike far far away from me.  I handed it to a volunteer and grabbed my run clothes bag.  I was hoping to beat my T2 time from IMAZ, so I had the volunteer help me into my compression socks.  Seriously, those things are a bitch and a half to get on.  Ready to go, I charged out the change tent and got on the run.

T2 Time - 13:14

The Run
In my last Ironman, I couldn’t wait to be off the bike and on the run, and Boulder was the same feeling.  I actually had a bit of pep in my legs, although you wouldn’t be able to tell by my times/splits.  In miles 1-2 I actually found some run in my legs. 

I was hitting the early aid stations, grabbing water and ice.  I still was feeling horribly bloated and couldn’t eat much.  So I figured just keep gobbling water and ice to combat hydration. 

Around mile 6, my friend Rob met up with me.  He drove up from Superior to say hello, and walked with me for about ½ a mile.  I appreciated his companionship. 

I don’t remember when I saw T, but I remember I was extremely happy to see her, knowing she was safe and on the run.  I also knew she would have no problem making the finish.  It’s a funny thing – for us mortals who do this sport for fun, and are sometimes at risk of not making a cut, just knowing you are going to make it is a huge relief.  Certainly, on what was proving to be a very tough day in Boulder, I was ecstatic!

The 2nd loop of the run was definitely more fun than the first, even though my body was starting to hurt every which way.  I made a couple friends on the run, including a very sweet lady who gave me some Tums to try to combat the bloat (they didn’t help).  One volunteer gave me some Advil as well.  I also realized T was catching up to me, and while I slowed down a bit more to allow her to catch up, she was powering through like a person possessed, and it was inspiring.  I was so proud of her at that moment.

Around mile 21, she passed me for good.  I told her to get her PR and I would see her at the finish line.  She agreed.  We love each other, but today, we needed to race our own race.  She joked about waiting for a good finishers song, and with that, off she went.

Around mile 24, I began feeling the overwhelming feeling of comfort and victory.  I was going to be an Ironman!

In the final mile, I made another run friend, one who was doing his first IM.  His wife was walking with him.  I had admiration for this guy.  Ironman is hard.  And here he was, nearly 16 hours in, but he was smiling and just so proud.  His wife was proud too.  I told him to go ahead of me, to enjoy the finishers chute.  I told him that in Arizona, I wasn’t present when I was coming down the chute, and to relish it.  He agreed and thanked me.  Around this time, I remember hearing Aretha Franklin’s R-E-S-P-E-C-T playing at the finish line and figured that was T’s finishing song.  Not a bad way to cross.  Soul sisters playing?  Hell yeah!

You may remember at IMAZ, I found a strange jump in my step and took off like a lightning bolt at around mile 25.6 for the finish.  That didn’t happen this time in Boulder.  I didn’t get that final jump until about 26.  Then I took off for the finishers chute.  This time, I was present.  I high-fived a lot of people, gave Curtis and Lisa a hug (they have me on video), and heard Mike Reilly call my name.  I didn’t care what my time was.  I didn’t care about anything at that moment except that, on August 7th, 2016, I once again got to call myself an Ironman.  I leaped at the finish line, barely stuck the landing, and pumped my fist in victory!

Run Time - 6:54:45

Race Time - 16:02:34

T hung my medal on me, having finished about 10 minutes ahead of me.  I was so proud of her and she was so proud of me.  We got our finishers pictures separate and one together.  Then we hit the food tent.  Having learned our lesson from IMAZ, we vowed not to sit too long so we wouldn’t stiffen up.  We chatted with Curtis and Lisa for awhile and took stock of our teammates who had finished.  It was a good day for Team MaccaX, as 4 of 5 finished the day.  I ate some pizza (the bloat was instantly gone when I hit the finish line…) and some fruit.  T didn’t eat much, and we left to grab our bikes, load up the car, and go home.

The next morning, we woke up early to head up and buy finishers gear.  The jackets this time were way better than Arizona.  We chatted with a few people, then we headed back home.  After taking a long nap, I woke up and received a very exciting email from Delta.  They had formally offered me a class on September 6th, and I excitedly accepted it. 

When I set out to get the job at Delta and complete Ironman, I had a goal in mind.  And to achieve it, I borrowed a phrase from the University of North Dakota men’s hockey team, who won the National Championship in hockey this year: Believe It, Earn It, Raise It.  I’ve done it.  I’ve achieved Infinity.

But I have to be honest.  My victories, as great as they are, were tempered that day.
Even typing this now, tears come to my eyes. 

I learned at one point on the run that the athlete who crashed on Highway 36 had died.  Her name was Michelle Fields, and she was racing in her first Ironman.  It sounded like a car had hit her.  Naturally, my reaction was one of sadness and anger.  Angry at Ironman for allowing this to happen on one of their courses.  Anger at the driver for being so careless.  Anger at myself for not doing more for her.  I was about 1-2 minutes behind her when she was hit.  While I stopped, along with some other athletes, I wish I could have done more.  I told T I wish I would have held her hand.  Told her that help was on the way.  Etc.  The harsh reality is, there’s not much I could have done other than some intangible actions that ultimately would not have saved her life.  It’s a terrible truth, but I’ll still have to live with myself knowing that I didn’t show her a bit of love in the final moments of her life.

I did ask myself a bit during the race, and am still doing so, “Is this worth it?”  Is it worth riding on roads that cars drive on without a care in the world?  Worth putting myself at risk and taking a chance?  All it would take is a teenager texting or checking up on social media, a parent checking on a kid in the backseat, or someone who has a bit of rage, to end my life on the road.  Is it worth it?

It is.  Here’s why: everything you do has risk.  From the moment you get out of bed in the morning, life is risk.  Low risk, high risk, it doesn’t matter.  Every day you put yourself out there and when it’s your time, it’s your time.  Spend too much time dwelling on what could happen, and you’ll never do anything.  I am not as religious as I once was (although I’ve prayed more in the last two months than I have in my entire life), but I do have faith that I have lived a good life and will be okay in the afterlife, whatever it might be. 

I think that’s how we all need to live our lives.  Be good to each other.  Take care of your “house”.  Work hard to live each day with some purpose.  Give back when able.  Most importantly, keep the dreams alive.  Believe It, Earn It, Raise It.

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