And so it begins…
3AM on Sunday July 28 my alarm goes off. Ok, to be totally honest, I didn’t sleep at all the night before my Ironman. I tossed and turned, switched beds, meditated, went through a roller-coaster of emotions until that alarm went off and I could jump out of bed and get this momentous day started. I guess on the upside, not falling asleep meant not fighting with waking up at an ungodly hour. I took a shower, put on my Sherpa kit which I would wear for the swim, braided my hair, and started prepping my 1000+ calorie breakfast. I walked outside my room to find 3 gorgeous signs that my hero Clara and her family had made and affixed to my door, offering their final words of confidence.
Team CTF arrived at transition to get body-marked, set up water bottles and nutrition on our bikes, and drop off our special needs bags. I found Brett and walked with him to the swim start where he helped me get into my wetsuit and then we said our final goodbye for the day which was far more emotional than I had anticipated. Suddenly tears welled up in my eyes, and I’m pretty sure I caught a glance of tears in Brett’s eyes too – but we can pretend this didn’t happen I then managed to find my sister Grace, a great surprise, and said a final goodbye to her as well. It’s a funny thing these long course races. You say goodbye and you are on your own for the rest of the day, there’s no one there to hold your hand after a certain point.
Coach Bob led the team in a final pep talk. I think we were all in awe that the day had finally arrived and we were standing there about to do this. Bob sent us off to find our places in the swim start. I found myself alone. Well, technically I wasn’t alone because I was one swimmer squished among thousands. But I kept scanning the crowd of wetsuit clad triathletes to find a familiar face. As if by some miracle out of the crowd I saw Reamonn, Laura, and Andrew all heading toward me. I don’t think they know how THRILLED I was to be able to stand with them as we awaited our turn to head into the water.
I have always compared the swim portion of a triathlon to walking the plank. Once you enter that water, there’s no turning back. Your day has started. But for some odd reason, despite all the bulls (i.e. people who swim into and over you), I felt so calm and at ease during my 2.4 mile swim. Anytime sometime pulled on my ankle or hit me in the rib, I laughed to myself and imagined it was Coach Bob doing this during one of our open water swim practices. Yes I swallowed some water, got pushed off “the line” a few times, and peed in my wetsuit but the swim felt like a breathing meditation – it calmed me down in preparation for what was to come…
I exited the swim, excitedly ran up to Bob to help strip my wetsuit and then off I ran to the bike transition. I grabbed my transition bag and headed to the changing tent where I was immediately greeted by a volunteer ready to help me get my swim clothes off, bike clothes on, and prepare for the bike. I wish I knew her name because she was so patient and helpful even getting my arm warmers on for me. I started putting items BACK in my transition bag and she insisted I just leave it, that she would take care of it. This was just a sampling of what was to come with the amazing volunteers all along the course that day.
The bike was challenging but felt better than when I rode the course back at training camp in June. When I was out on the course (and not in town) I felt like I was on a long training ride and, the best part was that all my fears about mechanical issues just melted away. I told myself “you are going to do this, even if you get a flat, you are going to be ok, you are going to do this.” As the ride started to hurt at about mile 90, I tried a little experiment of focusing on gratitude. Instead of thinking about how many hills remained to climb or how my right quad felt like it was going to snap, I focused on how grateful I was to finally be experiencing this day that had been years in the making. As I climbed back into town after the final lap, I saw my family cheering me on and I knew I was ready to run.
Again with the helpful and ever patient volunteers helping me change in transition 2. I took my sweet time getting changed, figuring out exactly what I needed to bring, and then headed out to start my (first ever) marathon. As I exited transition, immediately people started cheering “Yeah Maggie! Go Maggie!” and I thought to myself “Wow, I guess a lot of these people must know who I am but I am having Ironman brain so I must not recognize them…” And then I realized my bib clearly says my name and it’s kind of a thing with Ironman that you cheer people on — it provides the utmost in support and motivation as you approach the end of a long day.
I am barely half a mile in and I hear Meghan Newcomer, who raced Hawaii 70.3 for Children’s Tumor Foundation and is kind of a triathlon mentor for me as she’s got her pro card but also has a full time job. Oh and she’s also one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. Meghan yells out to me “Maggie! You look great! You look so strong!” And I was like “yeah man, I’m really doing this!” Well, I round the corner to the steep downhill (which would later be a steep uphill) and who do I see but CTF family (Sarah and Alissa) and my hero Clara and HER whole family including her two sisters Isabella and Nora. Clara’s mom was beyond excited to see me, in fact I believe she was jumping up and down and screaming my name at the top of her lungs. That provided a good laugh and I got to high-five Clara, giving me the boost I needed as I headed further out into the quiet that is most of the run course.
You see, about 10 miles of each loop of the run course is an out and back referred to as River Road. Technically you’re not alone on River Road – you have volunteers and other runners and you make friends and talk to each other – but boy does it get QUIET. The first loop I remember being almost too easy, I had to remind myself to SLOW DOWN. As I made my way back into town and rounded the last corner before IGA hill (the super crazy ridiculously steep and long climb) I felt a rush of energy and powered up that hill. Dude, I don’t think I’ve ever run up a hill with such tenacity in my life. And of course, there was miss Clara and her family cheering me on again! I ran through town and literally felt like a rock star. It’s as if everyone I have made a connection with from when I signed up for my first triathlon in 2010 until now was out there either running or spectating and everyone was rooting for me. As I was making my way out of town again for my 2nd loop I ran into my teammate Laura who was about to FINISH her 2nd loop, about to become a 3rd time Ironman.
It was pretty emotional knowing everything she has gone through in her life, living with NF, and also in this training season with a bad hip injury. I was so happy to see her just before she crossed the finish, looking strong as can be, and she left me with some serious words of encouragement that helped push me through MY 2nd loop.
As expected, that 2nd loop was harder than the first. I had the occasional bout of nausea and started feeling an unfamiliar pain in my lower back, but I maintained a steady pace and focused on gratitude. Just before I started to head back into town with the cheering, music, and noise I took some time to reflect on what was happening. I only had a few miles to go and it finally dawned on me that I was going to be an Ironman. All the hard work had worked. All the support from family and friends along the way had worked and had helped me reach this point. I was about to accomplish one of my biggest dreams and I also was doing it with the knowledge that I was making a difference in a family’s life. I thought about the letter Clara’s mother had given me the day before, the letter that really hit home as to how much of an impact I had made on their lives. I had no idea and felt grateful for this gift, this new connection, that they had given to me.
The finish chute and finish line of Ironman was more than I could have ever imagined. I got choked up even before entering the Olympic Oval. See, what happens is, the run spits you back into town and you can hear Mike Reilly calling people Ironman as they cross the finish, but you still have 2.2 miles left to run out and back. You finally start to approach the Olympic Oval and when you enter it people are lined up against both sides. You make that final turn and then BAM – bright white light, blaring music, people are screaming your name! I spotted my mom and dad, my sister Grace, I spotted Clara, I spotted Brett. They were all bunched together waving and screaming for me. I ran by them then quickly realized there was no need to rush now. I turned around and gave them all (ok almost all of them) hugs and kisses. I knew the day wouldn’t have been the same without all of them there. I then made my way to the bright light, to the finish line. Before crossing I heard my name … I heard … YOU ARE AN IRONMAN. I crossed the finish, gave Dave a high five, and there was my coach Bob who placed my medal around my neck. What a perfect end to a perfect day. We hug, I cry even more. He asks if I am ok and I just say, over and over, yes and that I can’t believe it. I can’t believe I did it.
And that my friends, is the story of my first Ironman. And if you’ve made it this far and read my whole race re-cap, well then you deserve a medal too. Or at the very least an ice cream cone or a quinoa cookie. Don’t you worry, there is still more to come from this journey, the lessons learned and the people that have come into my life. And the biggest secret of all: what’s next?
My Mom kind of caught the finish on video: http://youtu.be/kZtjRNfzjco