When I changed out of my wetsuit (and the swimsuit underneath) into my bike gear at the first transition, I was intentionally deliberate. Doing things like putting my socks on before my bike shorts (a good tip from a commenter on this blog). Thinking. I moved slow on purpose, not wanting to make mistakes that would cost me time.
At the transition from bike to run, on the other hand, I moved slowly just because I was pooped.
The change actually went quickly. I changed into running shorts — I didn’t want even a teeny-tiny chamois hampering me during the marathon — and my LiveStrong running shirt, and put on running shoes.
That took about three minutes, I’d guess.
Then I sat there for a while longer, just not really very interested in getting up. Eating the PBJ sandwich I had put in the bag the day before. Getting a drink of water. Using the restroom. Checking email and working on a Sudoku puzzle.
Okay, maybe I didn’t do the email and Sudoku part.
Eventually, I wandered outside, my PBJ still in hand, and started running.
And that’s when I discovered — and I’m sure I’m the first person to ever learn this — that when you’re dehydrated and breathing hard, it’s not easy to swallow a bite of PBJ sandwich.
I carried the PBJ sandwich, the same bite of dry bread and sticky peanut butter in my mouth, for the next half mile.
Which made it difficult to acknowledge the cheering throng.
As I went by, one woman yelled out, “Nice tan line!” I wonder what that was about.
Confession: My Original Running Plan
My left hip flexor has been bothering me since the Death Valley Marathon last February, so running has not been a very big part of my life for the past few months. Specifically, I have only run more than ten miles a few times since February.
And most of my runs have been more along the lines of six miles.
Every week or two.
So, I figured, I’d just try to use a combination of running, walking, and stubbornness to get me through the marathon.
Specifically, I hoped that I’d be able to run the first half of the marathon, then gracefully transition to a more leisurely “run a mile, walk a minute” technique.
Which would, I had to acknowledge, probably turn into a “run a half mile, walk a minute” technique after a while. Followed by a “run a quarter mile, walk a minute” strategy, which would, at long last merge into a “walk a minute, walk a minute” approach.
Plan A Quickly Gives Way to Plan B
I managed to more-or-less run for the first couple miles, for which I was proud. And about 2.5 miles into the run I crossed paths with the Runner; she was in the home stretch for the bike ride. Which meant I had about 40 minutes on her.
I did some quick math and knew that she’d for sure catch me before the end of the race. The only question was, would I be able to hold her off for enough of the run that when she caught me it wouldn’t seem like a shame to stay with me.
So my goal was to be fast enough that The Runner would catch me at mile 23.
Meanwhile, I began planning my two different speeches for when she caught me:
- If she caught me before mile 23: “This is all I’ve got; why don’t you go finish strong and then wait for me at the finish line.”
- If she caught me at or after mile 23: “How about you slow down just a hair and let’s cross the finish line together?”
The problem is, it was quickly becoming evident that I would not be exactly tearing up this part of the course. Before I began the fourth mile, I had my first unplanned walking break.
And many more would follow.
It was curious, really, to experience the sensation of total power loss. I’d be doing my best impression of running, moving along at a good solid five mph, when, without really meaning or wanting to, I’d fade into a walk.
So my new plan? Run when I could, walk when I had to.
And I had to walk a lot.
This Course Is Just Plain Mean
I’d like to make it clear that my slowness was not exclusively because I am not any kind of runner at all. Part of it’s because the run course is purely hilly. Check out the elevation profile:
This double-mirror image profile is because the course is a double out-and-back. You run up a hilly road with a couple hilly detours, then down the other side, then turn around and come back to the start. And then you do it again.
So you see the same 6.5 mile road four times.
A number of people have wrinkled up their noses when I tell them about this out-and-back-and-out-and-back course, but I liked the idea of it. 6.5 miles is something I can get my head around, and I was able to say to myself, “just get to the next turnaround,” over and over. 6.5 miles is a much more manageable distance to consider than a marathon.
Plus, with this kind of marathon, I was able to see the really fast guys finishing up their second laps as I started my first.
Not that that was demoralizing or anything.
I did, however, have one nice moment. As I got to the top of Red Hills Parkway the first time, I saw the back of Cory, who had finished the bike ride ten minutes or so ahead of me. He was stopped, talking with some volunteers at the aid station.
I picked up my pace so I was very nearly running again, and then smacked him on the butt as I went by.
Then I had a brief moment of panic as it occurred to me — after the fact — that maybe it wasn’t Cory after all, but maybe another guy with the same jersey.
But it was him. Whew. (Note to self: in the future, be sure to get a positive ID on people before smacking their butts.)
I Love the Volunteers And Their Dixie Cups Full of Heavenly Nectar
I think I’ve thoroughly established that this is a hard marathon.
Luckily, there was an aid station every single mile. And even more luckily, the volunteers at those aid stations were incredible. A line of fifteen or more people would be standing there, yelling themselves hoarse for you, and offering what they held in their hands to you as if it were very very very important to them that you take what they had.
“Gatorade! You need Gatorade!”
“Cold sponge! Get your cold wet sponge!”
“Want Coke? You want Coke!”
“Bananas? Oranges! Grapes!”
“Want some chicken broth?”
Like they were getting commission on it or something.
I felt a strange sensation as I went by people who had something I didn’t want:
I felt apologetic.
“Thanks, I’m good. Sorry,” I’d say, over and over, as I went by.
At first I went with Gatorade at each aid station, with a Powergel every two or three aid stations. But before long, I hit my threshold for how much Gatorade and Powergel I can consume in a day.
I switched to Coke. Then added broth. And then added oranges.
And that became my new aid station routine: a half-Dixie cup of broth, the same amount of Coke, and an orange wedge.
And that worked perfectly for me. No stomach problems, no hunger pangs, no more weakness than I had otherwise.
I Love My “Fans”
If there’s one thing that can bring a completely spent racer back to life, it’s a cheering crowd. Or a single cheering person, for that matter. The Runner’s brother and one of her sons had — unbeknownst to me — set up camp along the course. The first time I saw them, they held up a “Go Fatty” sign they had made.
It made a huge difference to me.
Then, as I took the last turn at a roundabout for the end of the first half of the race, there was a group of women cheering for me. At that particular moment, I wanted nothing more than to walk, but thanks to them, I found it within me to pick up the pace, at least for a little while.
I Love My Training Partner (aka Wife)
And then, of course, I ran into The Runner (not literally). The first time I saw her on the course, I was 7 miles into the run and on the way back to the starting area; she was on her way to the turnaround — so about 1.5 miles behind me.
“How are you doing?” I asked.
“My stomach is killing me,” she said.
“You’ll catch me soon,” I said.
The next time I saw her, I had just completed the final turnaround; she was just about to do the final turnaround.
“Slow up for me for a second and I’ll catch up,” she said, which was no problem, since she was running and I was walking pretty much everything by then.
Right at the mile 20 mark, she caught up. Her stomach was better, thanks to about a hundred Tums and Gas-X strips.
I was ready to give my “you go on ahead” speech, but she said, “Let’s finish this thing together.”
“Are you sure?” I asked. “You’re obviously faster than I am, and I can’t go any harder than I’m going right now.”
“I’m tired, too,” she replied.
Honestly, we both know that she could have finished the race ten or fifteen minutes ahead of me if she had wanted to.
And I love the fact that she preferred to finish it with me.
Here we are, tearing up the course together:
The Runner and I struggled on for the final six miles together. We’d run when she could convince me to speed up; we’d walk when I could convince her to slow down (or, a couple of times, when I just dropped to a walk and said, “Go on ahead, I’m done.”)
Eventually, amazingly, we got into the finish chute.
And it was amazing.
Hundreds of people lined both sides of the road. Cheering, shouting.
The Runner and I took each other’s hands and broke into a run. I would not have believed I had it in me, but there it was.
We crossed together, arms raised (Thanks, Debbie M, for capturing and sending me that video!):
Thirteen hours, thirty-four minutes.
I’m going to call that awesome.
Right away, volunteers grabbed each of us, got blankets on us, gave us a bottle of water, and escorted us to a place where a pro photographer could get a shot of us.
Then Scott, the IT Guy, Kenny, and Heather (who had been mountain biking in St. George that day and came into town to see the finish) took care of us.
Scott and The IT Guy collected our bikes and other stuff, including my truck, and brought it back to the hotel for us.
And Kenny gave us a ride back to our hotel. In the back of his truck:
Back at the hotel, we sat and talked about the day. And then we asked The IT Guy to go to Del Taco to get us four fish tacos and a shake, each.
Which may have been the very best part of the day.
Would We Do It Again?
I am so glad I did an Ironman. The Runner is so glad she did an Ironman. It was an incredible experience.
And neither of us plan to do another one.
Here are the reasons why:
- In spite of my new respect for swimming, I just don’t love it. I never looked forward to a training swim. And I don’t think that will ever change.
- For your first Ironman, it’s all about just completing. If you’re going to do a second Ironman, it has to be with the objective of being faster. Which means we’d have to think about faster transitions, maybe getting TT bikes, and all of that kind of thing. And I’m not interested in that.
- We got lucky. There’s consensus that the St. George Ironman course is one of the hardest there is. And if we hadn’t gotten lucky with the weather — mild wind and cool temperatures — it would have been much, much harder. This was hard enough as it was. I don’t want to chance doing this race in 90-degree weather.
Besides, we had already said this was a one-time thing. Not that I’m opposed to reversing myself.
But I think this time I’ll stick to my guns.
Or so I claim.