Each and every time I’ve gotten off the bike in any race of any distance, I’ve always felt a sense of relief as soon as my feet hit the ground. While I’m not a particularly fast runner, I’m faster than I used to be and I’ve been running for a long time. So I’m comfortable running and I know what to expect and what I’m capable of when I tie on my running shoes.
The Ironman marathon was to be my third (funny enough, I never really intended to run more than one…); numbers 1 and 2 were in Portland in 2010 and 2012. So while I’m not exactly an old pro at marathoning, I had always been comfortable leading up to Ironman that I knew what it would take mentally, physically and emotionally.
Or at least I took comfort in the fact that I knew what it takes on a day when you wake up, roll out of bed and hit the road for a standalone 26.2 miles…
However, in the last few weeks leading up to the race, I was ever-so-slightly less than confident, primarily because of the fact that I had not gotten past 17 miles on my training runs. It was not for lack of trying, it just didn’t ever work out.
But getting off the bike on race day, I was happy simply because my feet were on solid ground (no more chances of mechanical problems like breaking a chain!), and with my swim and bike times being what they were (and the fact that they were DONE). And I had plenty of time to travel the “mere” 26.2 miles.
A volunteer was right there as I cruised into transition, waiting to grab my bike and rack it for me. I pulled my Garmin off the bike before handing it over and strapped it onto my wrist (remembering to press “lap” right away this time, so it would know I had stopped biking and started transition).
Upon entering transition, I grabbed my bag from the volunteer and found an empty chair in the tent. My volunteer dumped everything in my bag onto the ground and I started sifting through it. First things first though… we had to scoop everything up and move further into the transition change tent. I had picked a chair MUCH too close to the tent openings and the crowd would have seen me bare it all if I hadn’t noticed before I dropped my drawers.
Once we moved to a less visible corner, I had to change out of my bike shorts into some underwear and a pair of running capris that had treated me well in all of my long runs. I had hoped and hoped and hoped that I could run in my bike shorts, but only ever made it 16 miles and then a subsequent 13 before chafing in very uncomfortable and inconvenient places down under made the decision for me that I would most definitely be changing for race day. (TMI perhaps and my apologies, but it is the ugly truth of Ironman and sometimes long runs for that matter…)
So, underwear, capris, bodyglide along the sports bra seams and boobs, front and back and along my lower back where my race belt and capris waist seam would sit and anywhere else that might bounce and rub for the next several hours. Fortunately, lots of long runs logged will teach you where these spots most often are.
Bike shoes and socks off, clean socks and running shoes on. Bike helmet off, 70.3 visor on. I grabbed another little baggie with some more endurolyte capsules and another gel and grabbed a little 10 oz. water bottle to carry with me for the run and headed out the door.
Hubby was seconds behind me and we took off running through the crowd-lined streets of the park. Leaving transition, we saw our good friends Whitney and Conrad who were volunteering. Conrad had promised hubby a good smack on the bum for good luck and he delivered in spades. Our other friends and IronFans Ashley, Katie, April, Sarah, Luke, Tara, Brian, Kate and Danielle, and our parents and my brother, all of whom had spent their entire day faithfully following us around cheering, were also closeby, rooting for us as we hit the road.
Each of us had hoped to stay under 11:00 minute miles and our first two miles were about 10:30 minute miles, which, under the circumstances was really not too shabby. But just a few miles in and hubby confessed that he was feeling “weird” and lightheaded and just generally out of sorts. I think he was still very much being affected by getting so far behind on his nutrition on the bike.
So we slowed to a walk while we both tried to choke down another Gu (the last one of the day for me – thankfully), some water and some endurolytes. A few miles into the run, I also realized that my stomach was feeling icky…
It was pretty hot out the first couple of miles, but the aid stations were every mile and our primary goal for the first five miles or so was really just to get hubby back to feeling less weird and less like he might pass out and keeping my stomach from going into all-out revolt mode.
Now it was around this time, not more than 4 or 5 miles into the marathon that we saw a woman who had pooped her pants and literally had **it running down her legs. Let’s say this: it was a sight of sheer and utter disbelief and grossed-outness for both of us.
“OH. MY. GOODNESS.”
“That is DEEEEEEE-sgusting.”
“Why doesn’t she stop and clean herself up?”
“Do you think she knows?”
“She must not know…Right?”
“How can she not know?!”
“Should we tell her?”
“How do you tell someone something like that?!”
“Ewwwwwwww. Run faster, I don’t want to smell it…”
I had seen signs before – “Never trust a fart in an Ironman” and more directly, “Don’t poop your pants!”, but I’ll admit I didn’t ever really think twice about it. Or maybe I didn’t really understand until my stomach put me on notice. Or maybe it was actually seeing some poor unfortunate soul who had literally pooped themselves that really drove it home.
Do we really need a reminder NOT to?
Now, here I will tell you that, despite my stomach feeling weird and on the verge of turning on me, I was NEVER ever ever in danger of pooping my pants. EVER.
But perhaps I can say that with such certainty because once we saw ol’ poopferlegs, we resolved to stop at every portapotty we even had a slight inkling we might want to use. Goal #1 was revised: Finish. But. NOT with poop on you!
So. Our pace dropped pretty quickly off of 10:30 but in large part due to stopping for restroom breaks every mile. Peeing. Or pooping. Or just stopping just in case. In the ABSOLUTE worst smelling portapotties on this great earth. Seriously. If you’ve ever been in raceday portapotties at the starting line, pre-marathon, anywhere, it’s like that. Only 100,000,000 times worse. There are no words. Seriously. It was awful. But remember the new, improved goal…According to my trusty Garmin, we spent a full 25 minutes of our marathon time not moving (aka, at portapotties, often in line). Not that it matters one bit.
In between pit stops, we waved and high-fived our friends we knew who were out on the course and by and large, everyone we knew who was doing the race was looking really good. Smiling. Feeling confident. Or… they were doing that when they saw us – faking it when we came into view – and going back to their falling-apart grumpy faces once we were past.
Thankfully after about 8 miles of jostling tummies, we discovered that Coke was somehow helping to settle things down on the gastrointestinal front. It was giving us both some needed energy (instant, easily digestible sugars that went down wayyyyy easier than a Gu or Hammer gel at this point) and somehow it was soothing the stomach. It’s bizarre and I don’t know why – I don’t need to know why. All that mattered was that it worked.
We settled into a strange pattern. Run 1 mile. Walk the length of the aid stations. Pick up (in this order for me at least):
1) Water – drink some and grab a 2nd cup to top off the little 10-ozer I was carrying to drink in between stations
2) A few sips of Coke
3) One orange slice – yum, so juicy and delicious
4) A couple of chips or pretzels – the salt really hit the spot probably both because my body needed it at this point and it wasn’t SWEET and OOEY-GOOEY like so many other things we had consumed that day
5) Ice – for the first 4 miles only while I was really pretty hot, this cup was dumped into my sports bra.
6) Chicken broth – Hubby started drinking warm chicken broth around mile 8 or so and around mile 10 or 11 or 12, I finally decided to add chicken broth to the mix. Even though it sounded gross, it was also quite tasty.
7) Endurolyte capsules – As you may recall, I carried these and took 2 every hour for the course of the entire day.
Once we cleared the aid stations, we’d run till the next one.
Looking back, the combination of things I was putting into my belly – though miniature amounts at a time – is slightly horrifying and disgusting. Under normal circumstances, I think they would not sit well together. Even thinking about it now makes my stomach turn just a tad. But somehow, the combination of things worked. It kept me moving, heck it kept both of us moving. And it kept my stomach from mutinying. Magically, after about 9 miles we discovered we no longer needed EVERY single portapotty (which was a huge relief since we had probably each hit 6 or 7 of the 9 that we had passed).
By this time, we were a couple miles out from hitting the downtown core where our friends, family and thousands of other spectators were cheering close to the halfway point. Time to perk up, pick up the pace just a smidge and act like this thing ain’t no thang.
We hit our special needs bags at mile 13 and I picked up some salt and vinegar chips I had stashed for myself. Hubby changed his socks, which made him SUPER happy as he loves new socks. And these were new, clean and dry unlike the ones he changed out of…
We saw our family and friends and high-fived and super-sweaty-hugged them as we boomeranged the turnaround corner and headed back out for round 2. First 13 miles was about 2:45 – certainly nothing to write home about but I realized that if we did the same thing again, we could be back (and perhaps most importantly, DONE) by 9 p.m. – before it got dark. Somehow, this seemed like a mark we should strive for (though I don’t think I verbalized it yet…).
With everything that we were managing/dealing with, the first half of the run went by really pretty quickly. In my head, that is. Well, of course you know that was not going to last.
You hear about the walls in marathons, right? Well there are walls in Ironman too. Only there are more of them, they are big to start with and get bigger and bigger and bigger as the day goes on.
Leaving town, around mile 17 or 18 is where we really started to see some apparent carnage around us. Aside from the lady who pooped herself (which one may or may not call a “wall” but I would definitely qualify as carnage), there were people walking, staggering, stumbling, even some crying.
Some had their eyes fixed towards the sky – I can only assume they were looking for some sort of help or inspiration or divine intervention from above (probably most requests involved sending help in the form of a winged angel to scoop them up and carry them the rest of the way). There were people stretching, sitting or laying on the sides of the road without the strength or willpower or energy to keep moving.
Somehow we distracted ourselves with sub-goal #1a: Just keep moving forward (sans pooping); and new, unspoken sub-goal #1b: make it back by 9 p.m.
Hubby starting hurting around mile 20 – it was around this time when he started getting adamant about me leaving him and us finishing the race separately. That was the wall talking crazy talk. And also his hammies, which started cramping and acting up.
We had a few grumpy miles, but I was determined to see this through. Sure, we had planned to run our own races and meet up after, but now that we’d come so far together and we were so close, I thought it would be super cool to have our first Ironman photo be of us crossing the finish line TOGETHER. Plus, he had seen me through soooooo many races before when I was hurting – and actually nearly literally pulled me through in some cases – it was the least I could do to stay with him. But this did not make him particularly happy.
Then there was also the other fact, which is that I don’t think that you could’ve paid me to move any faster. He was worried about holding me back but he wasn’t. Not in the least bit. He didn’t believe me.
Mile 21-23 came and went with us still trucking along with stretch breaks interspersed… our pace slipped just a tad but forward progress and still, poop free. (#winning, yeah?).
Around mile 24 hubby’s hammie cramped up again, and he grimaced and told me again to just go, perhaps most convincingly here. I had a brief thought, looking at his face, that he was at this time seriously considering walking the last two miles. Crap. At that exact time, a lady we know saw us and yelled at him, “oh its only 2 more miles, suck it up!” Now, we don’t particularly like this lady a whole lot. And honestly, I’m not really even sure it registered for him who had yelled that. But it worked. He sucked it up.
The last two miles, I don’t really remember much about them. Honestly, sticking together and being worried about hubby’s issues distracted me a lot from dwelling on my own too much. Selfish to say, but it made the entire run go by faster for me.
Before we knew it, we were on Sherman Avenue, the last 8 block stretch of the entire race. And the street, true to form, was absolutely packed with people.
I’d talked to a lot of people who had finished Ironman before and they all said to take your time on Sherman. Don’t rush it – take your sweet time. Soak it in, they said. All of those people are cheering their (sometimes very drunken) little heads off and they’re cheering for you! Yelling your name! Giving you all the cowbell you could ever want. Telling you you’re their hero.
You’re a freakin’ rockstar, they said. You will never get this again (until you do your next Ironman…)
And its totally true.
I’ve been at a total loss for the past two weeks, trying to explain what Sherman Avenue was like.
It was complete and total sensory overload. Everything that people had told us it would be and so much more.
Thousands of people cheering at the top of their lungs.
People screaming your name.
Welcome to the party.
Hubby and I spent the last blocks of the race beaming from ear to ear. And alternating between almost crying and laughing big incredulous laughs. Completely overwhelmed. And in total disbelief.
We high-fived some more people who were lined up along the last few blocks of the course. Tried to recognize faces amongst the crowd and we were able to pick out our friends and up a few blocks, our family thanks in large part, to these incredible Dr. Seuss-like hats that our moms had made and were wearing. Only instead of red and white, they were bright yellow and had been decorated in glowsticks and windmills and shiny curly ribbons. They were up in the bleachers, so we smiled and waved and blew kisses.
Mike Reilly on the microphone.
“YOU! ARE! AN! IRONMAN!!!!!”
Holy crap. We made it. I gave hubby a goofy smile as we crossed the finish line and I gave him a sweaty, delusional smackeroo on the lips before we were shooed off the finish line by volunteers.
We did it! Unbelievable… except we have the big shiny medals to prove it!