I counted up on my fingers and toes the other day and realized that I had been in 15 triathlon swim starts before the Ironman (13 as full races and two as relays), but while a number of them were mass starts, none of them prepared me for an in-water mass start with 1800-plus other participants. It didn't look like that many while we were all treading water listening to the national anthem, but when the cannon suddenly went off and the water erupted all around me, the only thing I could think was "Oh shit!" (sorry, Mom!)We were off!
My mother later described the sight as "all these arms moving at once like a giant sea mammal." Being in the middle of that giant sea mammal was really quite an experience, especially trying to avoid all the flailing arms and legs that surrounded me. I don't know the official number of women in the race, but I can tell you that I hardly saw any of them while we were swimming. Mainly what I saw (and felt!) were guys twice my size, some of whom couldn't swim straight at all. I was pretty sure I was going to come out of the first lap with a black eye, but am glad to report that no major damage was sustained.
As I approached the shoreline the first time, I found myself thinking, "Hey, I'm actually doing the Ironman!" I was totally psyched when I came out of the water after the first lap and saw that I had done it in 38:22, by far my best time at that distance, so I decided that it would be fair to slow down a bit for the second lap. And the second time around was much more enjoyable, with far fewer bodies more evenly spaced, so I could really stretch out and swim. Since I had never gone 2.4 miles in open water before (two miles being my previous limit), I was worried that I would get tired, but it wasn't a problem. I definitely did slow down for that lap, but came out of the water at 1:20:59 very well pleased. A swarm of people offered to help me take off my wet suit, which was a very bizarre experience but one I think I will secretly wish for at subsequent races! And then I was running for the transition tent to get ready for the bike.
The bike leg of the race was pretty much a pleasure. The climb out of town was fun, and it was interesting to see actual race officials on motorcycles giving out actual violations for drafting, blocking and generally being a cycling menace. (I know I'm going to miss THEM at future races!!) The course is incredibly beautiful, and I was able to steal a few glances at the mountains and rivers as I went by, although on the massive downhill section 10 miles out, I wasn't looking at anything but my road and my computer, watching the numbers climb into the upper 30's and edge towards 40. (Unlike Audra, I didn't hit 47 mph, which frankly suited me just fine!!!)
I was very familiar with the next stretch of the bike course, as it went through the tiny town of Jay where Evelyn [Heinbach] and I were staying that week. I waved at the folks who were hosting us, and enjoyed seeing signs with my name and race number on them as we climbed up the hill past our cottage. I also made a new friend on that climb, who noticed the signs and also noticed the rainbow stripes on my bike and helmet. He wanted to know if I was making a statement, and when I told him that I definitely was he said "Good for you! Be proud!!" We spent a good part of the next four or five hours passing each other (mainly me passing him on the uphill and him passing me on the downhill) and joking around. In fact, I did a lot of that during the bike, passing people on hills, AND joking around. It was the most fun I've had in a triathlon in a good long while, and a lot more fun than I expected to have on some of the nasty climbs along the 112 mile course.
I got into T2 [second transition, bike to run] much earlier than I expected to, a good 50 minutes earlier, in fact. So I had a nice time in the transition tent, changing my clothes, drinking Gatorade and eating pretzels. Audra showed up a few minutes later, and we decided to run out together. We nearly ran into a woman running towards the finish line as we headed out to the run course, and realized that she must be the women's leader when we saw the pace car following her -- we had gotten to see Heather Fuhr just moments away from her record-breaking finish. It was a good start to the run, and we were in good spirits, running strong and sure we would finish in good time.
One thing I hadn't anticipated was the dark clouds that came in over the mountains at the end of the bike. (The weather forecast was sunny and warm with clear skies -- never trust the weatherman!) I had decided to bring my arm-warmers along on the run because it was colder than expected without the sunshine overhead, and I felt a bit chilly. That in itself was no big deal; as long as I was moving, I was fine. But once it started raining at around mile 8, I began having some problems. I had been eating and drinking often throughout the day with no problems -- but soon after I started feeling cold from the rain, I also felt some nausea coming on; I was shivering, and I needed to walk up hills. I started thinking it might be efficacious to get sick so I could relieve the pressure on my stomach -- but then we were heading into town and there really wasn't a good place to do it (except on the fans!) so I figured I'd just keep going and see what happened.I was relieved to pick up my FRNY coolmax shirt at the special needs station around mile 12. With that and my arm-warmers, I figured I'd be good to go. I felt a bit more cheerful as we headed back out of town after the halfway point -- once I got far enough into my second lap, it should be clear sailing. Evelyn was waiting for me with the camera and with my jacket, which I refused. I didn't want to get disqualified for accepting outside help (and I heard later there were people who got DQ'ed during the race for that reason), and I figured that I would be OK as long as I kept running. But all too soon I was pulling my arm-warmers down over my hands to keep them warm, and my stomachache wouldn't go away. Then I started walking again, and shivering harder. I didn't want Audra to have to wait for me, and she kept running. She looked strong and steady. I told myself I would catch up with her when I felt better, or at least see her when she doubled back towards the finish. I ran into my parents at mile 14 and they looked worried; I told them I would make it across the finish line even if I had to walk, and I meant it. But half a mile later, I got sick. And then got sick again. I sat down for a minute and sipped some water, but that only made me feel colder. I got up, kept walking and made it to mile 15 -- and saw an ambulance parked across the street. It took me all of 10 seconds to decide to walk over there and ask the paramedics to check me out. My vitals were ok, so they offered me a space blanket and told me I could keep going if I wanted to -- but I could tell they were worried. I wondered how I was going to walk 11 miles in the dark and rain with nothing but what I was wearing and a space blanket, whether I would collapse out there, or maybe make it across the finish line but end up in the hospital, and decided to take the ambulance to the medical tent at the finish line. It turned out to be the right decision, because as we started to head back into town my shivering got even worse. They covered me with blankets, gave me oxygen, and tried to set up an IV but the ambulance was bouncing around too much. (The failed attempt hurt quite a bit!!) Once I got to the medical tent at the finish line, they gave me a liter and a half of warm IV fluid to warm me up. It took me over an hour to finally stop shivering. I think I even fell asleep for a few minutes, despite the loud music and the announcer screaming "You're an Ironman!" I was wondering how everyone else was doing, and where my family was. It was a relief to finally see them -- it took almost two hours for the volunteers to find them. And the reunion with Evelyn took even longer, but was worth the wait. (And I was really ready to head back to our cottage and sleep!) I didn't really cry about not finishing until the next day. I guess I was in emergency mode; my mother thinks it was shock. So that's my Ironman story so far. On Sunday night in the medical tent I said "I'll never try this again, I'm done." Monday morning I was lying in bed wondering if I should go out and run that last 11 miles before we left town, just to prove to myself that I could have finished if I hadn't gotten hypothermia. (I decided that would be silly and wouldn't prove anything except that I was low on common sense.) As we drove out of Lake Placid that afternoon we went by the place where I stopped, and I took a good look at the 15.1 mile marker on the road. I realized at that moment that I would be coming back to Placid some day (but not next year) because I have to know what that finish line looks like. I know I can do it, and next time I'll pack a suitcase full of clothes so I'll be prepared for any weather.