My alarm went off at 3:30AM. I'm happy to say I actually slept a solid six hours despite the nerves. I got up and turned the coffee on and then ate my pre race breakfast which consists of a Gatorade Prime 01 drink which contains a ton of carbs and 330 calories in a very small amount of fluid, and a package of pop tarts for a total of around 700 calories. Wash all that down with a cup of coffee to get things moving and it was time to suit up for race day. The weather forecast was for a cold breezy start to the day which would never really warm up. So my plan was to wear a tri suit for the swim under my wetsuit which I'd remove and dry off before putting on my bike clothes. So I put that on, added a layer of warm clothes after that and then sat down waiting for 4:45am to come so I could head to transition. I passed the time chatting with my team mates as they got ready. On my floor of the house were Norrine, Bob, Kevan, and Kate. We had agreed the night before to head over together in the morning. So at 4:45 we headed off to transition.
This race is a somewhat initially complex point to point to point race. The logistics of it are hard to wrap your head around at first until you've stared at it a little and then they actually are pretty easy to manage. It is worth studying them in detail. In our case we drove to T1 and parked there. Checked and filled the tires on the bike, added my bike nutrition and computer, and then grabbed my pre/post event bag and got on the shuttle to head to the swim start which was a couple of miles down the road. I should mention its still pitch black out but transition was well lit with portable construction lamps so navigating it wasn't a problem. I boarded the shuttle to the swim start with my team mates Luis and Matt. The beautfy of there being 13 of us there is that you never had to look far to find someone else you knew to chat with. It really kept the nerves down. Luis, Matt and I didn't speak much on the bus once it was moving. We were all lost in thought about what we were about to attempt. We felt confident, but its a long day, and anything can go wrong.
The Tri-Newengland group started to form in the parking area near the beach. With each trolley dropping off swimmers our group grew until all 13 of us were there. We put our wetsuits half on and sat down on the ground to conserve energy nervously chatting together. Not much later my fiance and our friends John and Rhonda appeared! Apparently I was so lost in thought I stared right through them. I was so excited to see April and it felt so amazing to hug her and know she knew exactly what I was going through. (her first Ironman was just over a year before mine). John and Rhonda are also both triathletes who can appreciate the feelings of race morning so I was in great company. I felt so lucky to have them there to support me during the race. We chatted, took some photos, and the seconds slowly ticked away till it was time to get the wetsuit the rest of the way on and head towards the beach for the swim start.
Beach 2 Battleship is well known as the flat easy iron distance race with the fast swim aided by the current. Well this year the tides were supposed to be at record high's and a very fast swim was anticipated. I have to say I chose this race becuase of how it fit my calendar and because so many of my team mates were also planning to complete it. It also wasn't as difficult to register for as some other races out there with very narrow windows to get into them. During our practice swim we learned just how powerfull this current was so I knew the swim was going to be fast and easy. My plan was just to take it easy and swim nice and easy and keep my heartrate as low as possible. I also planned to poke my head up a few times and look around and take in the moment. You only get one first Ironman. I knew the swim would be the warmest part of the day with water temps at 69 degrees I was very comfortable in a full sleeved wetsuit, swim socks, and the race provided cap.
A few of my team mates and I grouped together waiting for the start and after a neoprene group hug the gun went off and we slowly walked towards the water's edge. The group I was with did not contain any super strong swimmers and none of us were in a rush to get into the fray of 800 people starting at the same time. I walked to the left of the group into a nice open area and entered the water approximately 60 seconds after the gun went off. When I started swimming I was still surrounded with people but not a terribly tightly packed group. We clearly all had the same plan to have a nice enjoyable swim. So I just got into my rhythm and started swimming. I found a nice groove and the only real problem I had was sighting. The sun was just barely up at this point and it was quite foggy so it was hard to see the landmarks I had learned to look for in the practice swim. So I just followed the group. I stayed to the left towards the center of the channel where I had heard the current was strongest and made sure there were always swimmers on my right every time I breathed to that direction. I pretty much gave up on sighting and just made sure I was always with other swimmers.
I popped up as planned about a third of the way through the swim off to the side and looked around. I took in the sights of the kayakers, paddle boarders, and the sounds of many people swimming. Its quite the sight to behold. I smiled, put my head down and started swimming again. I thought to myself... "holy crap! I'm doing an Ironman!!!!" That got the heart rate going so I put that thought aside and just kept swimming. The buoy layout and navigation was odd for this race. There was no clean indication what the buoys were for. I didn't know if I HAD to round them, and on which side I should. Every time I looked as we approached a buoy there were large groups of people on both sides of the buoys. So I decided they were navigational aids but that they didn't have to be rounded. So I just swam with the group and it wasn't long before I was swimming up the dock where the swim exit was.
At the end of the swim you approach a long line of dock that has many ladders on it you have to use to climb out of the water. There were quite a few of us there at the time trying to get out and I swam wide towards an open ladder. As I approached the ladder I accidentally took a stroke behind someone whose foot I gently touched with my outreached hand. This person responded by kicking me HARD in the shoulder. Really? a pretty lame move that close to the swim exit. I pushed it aside and swam to my ladder and got out of the water. WOW ITS COLD OUT!!!! was my first thought. I stripped the wetsuit down to my waist and layed down on the ground in front of the nearest wetsuit stripper who peeled it off and threw it back at me. HOLY COW ITS COLD OUT!!! I ran through the showers at the swim exit to get some salt water off me and then started the 400 yard jog towards the changing tents and T1. Somewhere in the middle of all this I looked at my watch. It was barely beyond an hour. I'd done the swim in something like 1:01!!! easily 15-20 minutes faster that what an unassisted swim split would have been for me. This was too much like cheating... I'll definitely have to do another Ironman so I don't have to put an asterisk next to the swim time!
Swim Time: (estimated 1:15-1:25) 1:02:26!
Bike Split: (estimated 6:00:00) 6:09:29. Given how flat this course was I definitely could have ridden sub six if I hadn't been so damned cold. The wind was tough but my average power for the ride was only 125 watts. I should have easily been able to manage 135-145 watts (based on my training) which would have netted me something much faster than a 6:09:00. conversely though... I should be very happy with that time considering how damned cold I was and how I persevered and didn't give up!
T2 was quick and easy. I got off the bike and headed into the changing tent. As soon as I got in there I saw Luis and we chatted a little as he finished up and I got started changing. I did another complete strip down. This time into tri shorts and a tshirt, fuel belt, calf sleeves, socks and sneakers and a hat. I should have kept the arm warmers on... but more on that later. I thought with the sun out that I'd actually be hot and warm... I finished up, added some chamois butter and I was off and running. Just 26.2 miles to go!
T2: (estimated 10:00) 8:01
I headed out of T2 feeling pretty good. I was so happy to be running and off the bike. I was really hoping that I'd finally get my core temp up now and start to feel warm. I'd been so cold for so long that I was looking forward to feeling warm....
and then I turned the corner to run up the first bridge...
and the 20mph headwind hit me.
and I was cold again.
my heart sank.
and I put my head down and told myself to suck it up and get this done. Its go time and there are only 26 one mile repeats between here and the finish line.
I broke the race up into multiple pieces. I thought of it as 26 1 mile repeats. I also looked at the race with an overall plan. I planned to RUN the entire first loop of 13.1 miles. I knew from T2 that Luis was just up ahead and I was pretty sure his plan was to run somewhere around 9s so I made it my goal to catch him by the turnaround. As odd as my legs felt the first few splits for me were in the 8:30-8:45/mile range. I let my legs run free and just aimed towards the turnaround as I took in the course to see what I was in for. The course starts by going over two large bridges back to back. The first of them is quite steep and the second, although flatter has this nasty metal grating crap on them where you can easily roll an ankle if you are not carefull. I got over those, realized the headwinds were going to be a constant cold part of my day and followed the course into downtown. I was glad to be around people once again. The bike course was feeling pretty barren and here there were lots of other runners and spectators. Slower folks from the half iron were still on the course and all the athletes from the full were there too. I also had no idea where I was in relation to my team mates so the first lap would let me know that too as the course is an out and back loop so I'd see all of them soon.
At 4 miles in or so I caught up to Jill. We chatted for a bit and I was so happy to see another friendly face. I ran onwards towards the turnaround knowing Luis was still up ahead somewhere and then Sean went flying past me (in the other direction) telling me I'd almost caught Luis. Sean was at least 3-4 miles in front of me at this point and looking very strong. I was psyched he was having such a strong day. I made it almost all the way to the turnaround before I saw Luis. He really was just barely ahead of me. I caught him right after the turnaround and then slowed down to join him. At this point I'd been so miserable earlier in the day that I just wanted similarly paced company. I was tired of being miserable and I wanted to enjoy the race. So Luis and I chatted and caught up and shared the experiences of our day and ran the whole back half of lap 1 together. We followed his plan and took a brief walk break that felt great and then started running again. I felt pretty good at this point and had settled into a rhythm of sorts. I was starting to wonder what lap 2 was going to be like though. My stomach was getting wobbly and I wondered how long my legs would hold up.
The bridges on the way back in were not a lot of fun with the winds and the incline but we did ok. The steep one was especially rough as into the extreme winds you are barely running above walking pace. I made a mental note to consider walking the steep parts on lap 2 to conserve energy.
As Luis and I headed in at the end of our lap 1 we saw most of the rest of the team out on the run course. I was glad to see that everyone had made it and everybody looked very strong! I knew then that we would all finish and that made me very happy. Luis and I chatted about running lap 2 toghether and talked about what we had to do in special needs. I was under the impression we were going to wait for each other but I think my race brain got confused and got that bit wrong. I had a quick visit to the port of john, grabbed a long sleeve shirt from special needs, ditched the fuel belt and just grabbed two fuel belt bottles to carry in my hands instead. I wanted the weight off my hips. I waited outside the port of johns for Luis but then figured maybe I had misunderstood him and that he must have left already. I lost a couple of minutes here, but no worries...
I headed out on the course again, this time alone to start lap 2. I purposely power walked the first steep hill on the bridge. It felt much easier than running it and the walk recharged me. I saw some more team mates and that always made me happy! It was so great to have so many of us out there together. It was so much fun to cheer for each other and shout other silliness across the course at each other.
I setlled into a groove on the way out and I knew that I'd see my people cheering on the course soon so that became my goal. Just to make it to them. I saw them in the distance and April popped up at my side and ran along side me. She told me that I was going to do this and that they had to make their way to the finish line at the battleship and that this was the last time they would see me until then. I was so happy that they had been there all day in the cold and wind. I was so happy to see her run by my side. That moment is one of the highlights of the race for me. I love the pictures Rhonda got of that moment. Just looking at them makes me tear up and smile.
Seeing everyone energized and kept me moving. I approached the short steep hill around mile 17 and walked up it and then started running again. My stomach took a horrible turn for the worse at this point and I focused on making it ot the port o john as quickly as possible. I sat down in the port o john and I remember feeling really dizzy. The little box started spinning. I was feeling light headed and woozy. I took care of business and knew I had to get out of that port o john before I either passed out or fell asleep in there. I started running again and everything felt wrong. I had 1.5 miles to go before the turnaround and I told myself I wasn't going to hit the coke until after that. So I just tried to problem solve in those moments as I ran towards the turnaround. I knew from seeing April that Luis was just up ahead so catching him again became the goal I focused on to get me through the rough patch. I felt awful. My stomach turned and I envisioned spending the final miles in a port o john tour stopping at all of them along the way. I sucked it up and kept run/walking to the turn around. I walked when a violent cramp would hit me and ran when I could. I hit the turnaround in somewhere just beyond 3 hours. I knew I wasn't going to run a 4 hour marathon but it wasn't going to be that far off. Considering how much I had walked already I was really happy with the split at this point.(3:09:xx) I knew Luis was just up ahead but I felt so awful I couldn't catch him. My stomach was getting really angry and the stomach cramps were debilitating.
The thought of any more gatorade turned my stomach so I dumped out the fuel belt bottle I'd been carrying and decided to fill it with coke at the aid station. I also grabbed two pretzel sticks. I walked a little, ate the pretzels and sipped some coke and then started running. I knew if I didn't run as much as possible I wasn't going to go sub 12 and I really wanted to be sub 12.
Withint 200 feet the pretzels and coke kicked in and I could run again. I don't know whether it was the salt, or calories, or the sugar in the coke but something was working. I RAN to the next aid station and then grabbed a HUGE handfull of pretzels. As in so large I sort of pulled my shirt up and put the handfull of prezels into the fabric pocket I'd just made and started eating. I filled my stomach with pretzels and suddenly I felt so much better and I really started RUNNING again. I felt great!
Right around this same time I saw Kate on the course. She looked at me and yelled "Triathlon is Stupid and We're All Going to Die!!!!!" I laughed hysterically for at least 5 miles. It was perfect. Thanks for that Kate!
I hit a downhill section of the course at the same time and I was hauling. ("hauling" is subjective... what felt fast to me was probably actually only a 9:30/minute mile!) I saw Luis up ahead and he was walking a bit at the time and I ran past him feeling strong. I ran through the rest of that lap feeling really good. I figured I still had time to walk the steep hill on the bridge and still go sub 12. With 5K to go I ran into Bob on the course. He looked good but was probably in the same place mentally as I was. We chatted and agreed we both needed to get this thing DONE!
So together we ran the last of the course. We hit the steep uphill on the bridge and walked it. There was no point in "running" 15 minute miles when you can walk them at the same pace. The Ironman hill climbing shuffle was in full effect! On the way down the hill it hit us that it was only a mile or so to the finish. It was close now and we knew we'd go sub 12. Both of us kept subconciously increasing the pace. We were going at a nice clip as we approached the T2/finish area. People were cheering and saying looking strong! Even the volunteers figured we were on lap 1 and we had to tell them "NO!!!! Lap 2!!!! We're DONE!!!". We picked up the pace again and smiled at each other. Lets do this! We agreed to cross the timing matt together and we hauled ass on the way in. I heard the announcer say "It looks like we've got a sprint finish folks!" and we booked it across the finish line!!!!!! (I checked my garmin later... We ran a 7:30 pace for the last few minutes of the run and we crossed the line running 6:30/mile!)
I crossed the finish line! I'd done it! I was in a daze... confused as they handed me my medal and a fininsher's tshirt. I stumbled through to the end of the chute and before I knew it April was there with her arms around me. If you would like to tell me that the hug April gave me at the end of the race was not the best hug ever given in a finish chute I will fight you. It was amazing. I've never been so exhausted, and happy, and thrilled, and elated and cold, and full of emotion all at the same time. I'd done it! Two years in the making from the first strokes in the pool, that first ten mile ride, and that first sprint triathlon. I was an IRONMAN!!!!
The rest of that night is a blur... I remember being freezing cold and shivering not long after finishing. I felt so much better after changing into warm clothes and then rallied with the rest of my team mates to cheer everyone in. None of us left to shower until everyone had crossed the line. Thats just how we roll. All 13 of us finished in under 14 hours. The fastest of us went 10:50 or so, and we all had strong days. I'm so proud to be a part of such a group and so proud to consider them my friends. We all had an amazing day!
To anyone who may be reading this thinking you could never do this... less than five years ago I was 75lbs heavier, a smoker, couldn't swim, couldn't run a quarter mile, and hadn't ridden a bike since I was 13. Put your mind to it, and you can do ANYTHING.