Saturday, November 27, 2010

IMAZ: The Run

The run.  Oh the run.  This was the big question mark of the day.  With a long run of only 90 minutes under my belt I had no idea how this was going to go.  Sure, it would hurt.  All over.  But when? My foot would hurt too, but when?  Would I be able to run the whole thing?

All these thoughts were swirling around my head as I left T2.  A marathon.  A marathon?  Are we kidding here?  I did a quick assessment of how I felt and quickly determined I didn't feel good. My back was sore and tight and my quads were sore and tight and my shoulders were even achy.  26 miles?  There is just no way.  I focused on getting to mile 1 and getting my run cadence going.  To make matters worse, the wind picked up so there was a vicious headwind and it started to rain.  I exchanged a few words with a guy next to me about how much the weather sucked and then I passed mile 1.  Dang, I still feel like crap and now I had shooting pains in my right hip.  Where did that come from?  I haven't had pain there before!  25 miles?  No way.  C'mon Michelle, keep running and things will loosen up.  Get to mile 2 and the aid station and reassess.  The rain stopped. 

By this point, I had passed a few people and been passed as well.  I certainly wasn't putting up a blazing pace, but it was exactly what Chuckie and I thought I could do - steady and strong.  But one of the men that had passed me was an old guy.  Now, I really don't have anything against old guys except that I don't want to be passed by one.   I kept him in my sights and had my first bogie.  Over the first of many bridges and the mile 2 aid station there was a sign for massage and I thought to myself....that would take care of my hip pain!  No Michelle, you are not stopping for a massage.  And you are not walking aid stations.  Got it?  Keep moving. You may slow down to grab a cup but that is it.  Time to focus on mile 3.

Here's the challenge with a 3-lap course.  The mile markers.  It was just a huge tease to see a mile marker that said 20, and one that said 9, and the one you were on was 3.  Once again, my overriding thought was no way.  I started playing head games with myself - ignore the high number mile markers and know that the next time around you will be at the middle number!  And then when you hit the middle mile marker, the next round will be the high marker!  As silly as that sounds, it worked.  It made the miles just a bit more manageable.  As I approached the next aid station at the top of a rather steep little hill, I passed my bogie.  My back had loosened up a bit and my hip pain was gone.  
Bogie behind me!
Over the next bridge and heading back towards the big crowds I realized I felt OK.  Not great, but OK.  And for the first time I thought that I might be able to do this.  A guy came up on me, noticed my Trakkers kit and asked if I knew Sonja.  Really?  Hmmm, do I know Sonja....of course I do, I'm PIC!!  He introduced himself as her ex-boyfriend and I chuckled at the randomness.  The next mile was where all our support crew was set up and their cheers lifted my spirits!  I cannot begin to tell you how much I love these people:)  Through the rest of the first lap, I concentrated on the lower mile markers, keeping my leg cadence up, and running through the aid stations.  To keep on top of my nutrition, I would take a little sip of Liquid Shot as I approached an aid station and follow it with a sip of water.  Before I knew it, I had completed lap 1.   2 more to go.
Finishing Lap 1 and still, somehow, smiling
The next few miles ticked along uneventfully.  Even though my body had had enough, I was able to continue putting one foot in front of the other and continue moving forward.  This was now the longest run I had done since June, my foot was holding up well so far, and my pace was not slowing down.  All in all, it was going well!  The head games were continuing.....I was at the middle mile markers and in double digits for miles and the next lap promised the high mile markers.  I had not slowed down, stopped or walked any aid stations.  But make no mistake, I was hurting.  I remembered the "looks" that Chuckie and Sonja would give each other while we were out training and when we'd talk about Ironman day.  The knowing look, the look that said....she has no idea how deep the pain cave gets in Ironman.  She has no idea how bad she will hurt.  The look that you can give only when you have experienced it yourself.  Of course, I knew I would hurt - that's what it's all about.  But I thought it would be the marathon hurt around mile 20, I didn't realize that it started much, much earlier.  It started on the bike.

Mid-second lap I came upon the cheering spectators and my awesome support crew again.  They were going nuts!  Michael yelled at me that I was 4th in my age group and that 3rd place was 2 minutes up in teal shorts.  Chuckie yelled for me to dig deep, that this is what it's all about.  So I picked it up just a tad, my legs were saying to do it, my lungs had no problem with it and though I hurt all over, I knew I could catch her.  I had to catch her.  My age group last year only had 3 Kona slots and if I wanted to get to Kona, well, I had to catch her.  I continued to run strong through the half-way point. And then the unexpected happened at mile 14.  Or maybe it was expected.  Not sure.  I took a sip of my liquid shot, had a sip of water and as I passed the aid station, my stomach flipped over and out my mouth.  Yep, I puked.  It was so sudden, it surprised me.....I was feeling fine just 3 minutes ago?!  This can't be good I thought to myself but it didn't matter.  I had to keep moving forward.  I still had miles to go before I put this Ironman to bed.  So I started to run again and my stomach settled.
No more smiling, pain cave end of Lap 2
From then on, the deal-making with myself began.  I allowed myself to walk the aid stations.  Sometimes I would walk a bit further than the aid stations.  But I always started running again.  I knew that once you start walking it becomes extremely difficult to run again.  The cheering crowds got me through lap 2 and then I noticed I was finally in the high mile markers.  I passed mile 18 and remembered that everyone says it's where the race really starts.  And, I had promised myself coke after mile 18 to keep me looking forward to the next aid station.  That was pretty much the only thing keeping me going.  I was trying to accept the fact that I wasn't going to make my secondary time goal, I wasn't going to finish while it was still light, and they were now offering chicken broth at the aid stations. Plus, there was no way I could pass 3rd place unless she totally blew up.  It was a distant possibility and that kept me going too.  Mile 20, my foot started hurting.  Badly.  6 miles left?   I wasn't uplifted by this at all.  If any woman passed me, I checked to see what age group they were in, but thankfully at that point, I wasn't being passed that much.  I thought about next season and how I was going to become a 70.3 specialist because I was not doing an Ironman again.  Ever.

Mile 23 I found a woman to run with and we pushed each other.  We'd stop at the aid stations and I just concentrated on staying with her. Or behind her.  But close enough that I could suck some of her pace for my own.  We talked a bit but I can't remember what we said.  Mile 24.  It was dark.  But I was still moving and running.  I could see where the finish line was and I had to get there.  Mile 25.  I saw the sign and for the first time all day, I knew I was going to finish.  I was going to be an Ironman and immediately tears welled up in my eyes.  One more stinking mile.  My pace quickened and the finish was getting closer.  Michael and Charlotte were at the 26 mile mark screaming their heads off.  Ron and Eric were screaming their heads off too, I tried to manage a smile.  And there it was, the finish chute.  The music.  The bright lights.  The cheering.  Oh my goodness.  How many times over the last year have I imagined this moment.  This feeling.  This accomplishment.  Mike Reilly was yelling my name and I high fived the spectators.  The clock read 11:07.  I didn't care, I held my arms up.  I am an Ironman.    
The finish chute was right around the corner

4:07, 11th "fastest" in age group

Once again, the volunteers amazed me.  There were two "catchers" that took me by the arms and held me up. They wrapped me in a blanket and I could tell they were assessing me to see which way I needed to go:  medical tent or food tent.  They were the nicest people, I may have fallen in love with both of them as they took care of me (I don't even remember if they were men or women).  People were congratulating me and I was a bit overwhelmed with the entire scene.  Sonja appeared through the crowd and was hugging me.  I was so happy to see her.  She took over from the volunteers and led me to the food tent and told me what to eat:  salty fries, soft drink, grapes, pizza, chips.  Finally, a chair!!!!  I sat down and started talking.  I'm pretty sure I told her I was never doing that again and she said that was normal, everyone says that.  I told her I couldn't believe how badly I hurt and she just nodded her head.  I told her I puked and she patted my back.  She signed me up for a massage.

Then I asked how her day went because she started out not feeling great - a cold had come on and she was pretty miserable that morning.  She looked at me and said she won her age group.  I cannot begin to tell you how proud I was of her at that moment!  I know how hard this woman has worked for the last year and how she has put her heart and soul on the line to go to Kona for the first time and for the opportunity to head back to Kona.  And before I even heard her story I knew she had to dig deeper than she ever had before.  But I was also a bit disappointed because I knew I wasn't going with her.  Even though I was never doing that again, I still wanted to go to Kona.
Sonja at the finish

That face says it all
Finally I was reunited with Michael and Charlotte!  Charlotte came and hung out with me while Michael retrieved all my bags and my bike.  She had some funny questions like mommy, were you mad when you were running because you looked really mad!!!  The three of us then walked (slowly) to the car.  Michael went on ahead so that he could pick us up, and Char and I just meandered across the Mill Street bridge.  I looked out over the lake and the swim was a distant memory.  Was that just today?  I could see some of the aid stations and the runners still out there and I cheered them on.

Back at the hotel, we met up with the amazing support crew we had out there:  Helen, Eric, Troy and Annie (Sonja's family), Michael and Charlotte (my family, Isabelle had to stay in Denver), twitter (and real) friend Ron, Chris, Tyler and Anne.  I know from experience how difficult it is to spectate a race and these people are the best!  Thank you for your support and cheers!  I cannot express how much it impacted me during the day but your support absolutely made a difference.    

It was time to start the celebration!! As we drove to the margarita bar restaurant, I checked twitter and was again overwhelmed by all of the mentions and support from my twitter family.  I started scrolling through and saw that I was in fact fourth.  But wait, there was something from twitter grandma sitbones that said Chuckie saw a mistake in the results.  What?  I scrolled a bit more and to my complete surprise, I had officially come in 3rd in my age group.  The supposed 3rd place woman did not complete her third lap.  I had a Kona spot.  And just like that, I was back on the Ironman bandwagon and doing another one!

Overall time: 11:07:44
3rd place age group

After the celebration and margaritas dinner, Sonja and I tucked our families into bed for the night and we headed back to the finish line for the midnight finishers.  We met up with Nicole and Nina and cheered for everyone coming in after 11:00.  This is really where the heart of Ironman is....these people who have been going for 16+ hours.  For everyone cheering for them and telling them they are an Ironman.  To have champion Chrissie Wellington running the final few finishers in, well, it is an amazing experience.
Rock Star Chrissie dancing at the finish
The clock hit 17 hours, and the official Ironman day ended.  The reality of the day, the pain, the accomplishment, the 3rd place finish, all came down and I was raw with emotion and tears, what a day!


Slow Rider said...

You are an ironman, now I don't feel so bad about getting chicked by you in knoxville. I'm up next year at cedar point, I hope to find some of your strength and speed. Congrats

Anonymous said...

You're amazing and an IRONMAN! To complete a marathon feeling like that, you definitely made iron! Congratulations on Kona. Can't wait to read about your training and build to Kona up w/ your PIC. Thanks for sharing your Iron Man journey. You and Sonja rock! Your cyber fiend,

goSonja said...

dang girl, you had me getting all teary and weepy. It's quite the amazing feat that you K-qualed on your first IM, like I said before, I fear your wrath when your foot is fine. Eeks!

Ben S said...

Awesome job Michelle! I love the "I'm never going to do this again....when can I get my next fix?" duality. I think many of us have that sickness..

You've done some great training and have some serious determination to do that well fighting through it.

Unknown said...

AAAAH Congrats!!!! Awesome report, thank you so much for sharing the good, the bad, and the UGLY. You kicked some serious booty in some nasty conditions and disrupted training- I can't WAIT to see what you are going to do next time! You rock!

Kiersten said...

You go girl!!!!! It was so exciting to see you cross the finish. I am a very proud to be your teammate.

Unknown said...

Wow!! What a great report! Amazingness!!! You earned that kona slot w/ every.single.step! Nicely done. Way to hang tough!!

Anthony said...

congratulations once again! you've certainly earned it! Just remember to never say never...

Norm said...

I just got of the phone with Sonja (Well a day ago) and she gave me a blow by blow account of the IMAZ race. Congratulations are in order for you. Excellent job, what a way to do your first IronM. Yes we will be seeing the PIC's in action at Kona in 2011. We will provide the course noise and distractons as will the after race beverage
Uncle Norm.

Big Daddy Diesel said...

I saw you blogged from your twitter account, I spent the afternoon reading your race report. I use to live in Arizona and worked a half mile from Tempe Town lake for 8 years.

What a great race report, I can feel your emotions through out the day, and how magical it was when you became an Ironman, and to add icing to the cake, your going to Kona, congrats all away around.