The Beach 2 Battleship Iron Triathlon

Beach 2 Battleship:  The time has finally come.  10 months of training.  Many hours spent in the pool, on my bike, and on foot through the streets and the trails of my home town.  Several sprint and Olympic triathlons and three 70.3 triathlons raced to help tune me up for the Big Kahuna.  After all of this, it was finally time to show everyone (and myself) what I could do.

The Border Wars 70.3 left me flying high after a solid performance there, so I was pretty optimistic that B2B was going to go well.  I began my taper, really backing off of biking and running and instead choosing to spend more time in the pool as well as focusing on preparing my body for the onslaught – massage, hydrotherapy, and stretching.

And speaking of stretching – I went to the gym with my friend Julie for a yoga class on a Monday night less than two weeks before the race.   If nothing else I thought it would be relaxing and help me to smooth out some of the kinks in my arms and open up my hips a bit.  The class was great – I felt refreshed afterwards and somewhat recharged.  “I should do this more often,” I thought to myself, forgetting how much I enjoyed that form of exercise.

The next day, I could barely move my left leg.  Every time I would attempt to lift it or move it laterally, I would get a shooting pain down my hamstring.  Walking was tolerable, but anything faster than a slow jog was uncomfortable.

I’m the only person on the planet who can train all summer like a madman without incident, and then pull a hamstring muscle doing yoga!!

Doubt started to creep into my mind – how am I going to cover 140.6 miles with a bum leg?  The only thing I could do was rehab myself as quickly as possible…and I’m fortunate to have exposure to plenty of rehab equipment.  Hey, the stuff I use may be intended for animals, but it works just as well on humans.  So, I hit up the cold laser a few times, kept up with massage and hydrotherapy, and even did some self-acupuncture to try to alleviate the swelling and the pain.  I had 10 days to get back into racing shape.  Come Hell or high water, I was doing this race – I wasn’t going to let the last 10 months of my life be for naught!

It’s the Thursday before the race.  The Sportage is packed up with all of my tri gear and additional clothing to get us through the next few days.  Loving meets Rick and me at our house and adds his gear to the cargo area, and then we rack up our tri bikes onto the back of the SUV.  I decked out the car windows with washable paint to add a festive tone to the trip – we’re IRONBOUND, baby!

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Locked and loaded!
Locked and loaded!

We pick up Julie from her job at noon, and officially hit the road, heading for Louisville to overnight at my mom’s house – I don’t get to see my mom nearly enough, so the opportunity of breaking up the 15+ hour total trip time by spending some time there was a welcome thing.  Unfortunately mom got called away to a business trip in Nashville, so I wouldn’t get to see her as planned, but her boyfriend Larry still welcomed us to the house with homemade spaghetti and meatballs…and it was DELICIOUS!

Friday morning we were all up early and on the road again for 5 am.  The 10 hour drive to Wilmington, North Carolina went more quickly than expected, partially due to the amazing scenery that surrounded us as we drove through the mountains of West Virginia/Virginia.  The colors of the leaves made for spectacular views.

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We stopped briefly in West Virginia for gas, and shortly after getting back on the road Loving let out a yelping sound, grabbing for his ankle – of all things, a wasp managed to find its way into the car and stung him through his clothes!!  His ankle immediately started to swell, with radiating waves of pain up his leg.  I instructed Rick to find the next gas station so we could get him some Benadryl to combat the venom reaction, and we pulled into a town in the middle of nowhere, WV (I swear I heard banjos playing).  Rick and I ran inside and I asked him to find the Benadryl while I went to find a pickle.

“Why the hell are you craving a pickle?  You know I can’t stand the smell of those things!”  Rick said.

“It’s not for me, it’s for Loving.  Trust me,” I replied, tossing the packaged giant Dill pickle on the counter while the cashier rung us up for our goods.  Rick handed off the Benadryl to Loving and I told him to get 4 tabs on board and then remove his shoe and sock.  I handed him the pickle and told him to pour the juice over the area of the sting.

In case you don’t know, the vinegar in pickle juice neutralizes the pain from bee and wasp stings.  Boom, instant relief.

At 3pm, we finally arrived at the location of packet pickup for the race in Wilmington. We met up with my good friend Matt (he had already gone through packet pickup and was waiting on us) and the five of us went in to get set up.    The expo was well-run and had a good flow to it: people checked your identification at the start, then you got your goodie bag (a long sleeve tech tee and trucker hat were the swag this year), your T1 and T2 drop bags, and your special needs bags.  The T2 bags needed to be packed and placed on its respective spot on a rack before leaving the expo, so Loving and I stuffed our run gear into our hand-numbered bags and placed them in their rightful spots.

While there, I ran into Susan Haag, a fellow Former Team Aquaphor athlete and all-around awesome woman.  B2B would be her 76th Ironman race!  So, we got a pic of us together, the newbie and the veteran.

The Newbie and the Veteran
The Newbie and the Veteran

After checking out the wares for sale in the expo (and they were giving away beer!), we headed outside to drop off our special needs bags at the trucks that would be transporting them to their respective locations on race morning.

The people taking the bags were all super nice!
The people taking the bags were all super nice!

From there, we all loaded up and drove to the location of T1 where we would drop off our bikes and our T1 bags.  I walked my bike into the rack area and slid it in between my neighbors’ two-wheeled steeds.

You can see my bar tape from a mile away
You can see my bar tape from a mile away

I started prepping my bag to drop in the bag staging area when I overheard that we could actually keep our bags with us and bring them on race morning to place at our bike area, as long as we didn’t need to use the changing tent.

Perfect!  My plan was to skip the changing area and just head for the bike, so I kept my bag of stuff and regrouped with the rest of the gang.  The five of us walked over to the swim exit to scope out the water – the swim would take place in a sheltered ocean channel, and word on the street was that the current would strongly favor some fast swims on race morning. I was excited about the prospect of a speedy swim – I’ve always felt comfortable in the water, and the thought of being pulled along by the current sounded fun as all get out to me.  As I peered out over the channel and played out the swim in my mind, I overheard one of the race directors talking with other racers about some helpful hints to make the swim even easier:

  1. Stay near the center where the water is fastest.
  2. Sight directly for the buoys but keep them to your right as you pass.
  3. At the last turn, keep the permanent red buoys that mark shallow water to your right to stay in the channel.
  4. Sight the tallest building you can see when heading for the swim exit after the final turn to make for the straightest possible route.

I love it when a plan is revealed, right before my very eyes.

The last part of the swim route.  Those houses in the distance sit along the route as well.
The last part of the swim route. Those houses in the distance sit along the route as well.

After a quick inspection of where and how we would get to our bikes from the swim exit, we all poured back into our cars and headed to the hotel to check in and get our things laid out for what was going to be an early morning and a long day following.  Loving and I laid out our race clothes and made some final preparations to our gear, and Loving inspected his ankle which was still swollen from the wasp sting earlier that day.   We both thought it best he tape the skin around the ankle to prevent it from rubbing on his shoe during the run.

The five of us reconvened to make our way to dinner, loading into Matt’s car and heading to what I affectionately term as “Old Reliable” – Olive Garden.  I know that I can get a good, predictable meal that won’t upset my gut on race day.  As we sat and ate, we joked about life in general and made bets and predictions on the race.  Matt and I had a friendly bet ever since signing up that the “loser” would buy the “winner” breakfast the following day.  He and I ribbed each other a bit and conceded to each other that anything could happen during the race.  I rubbed my hamstring a bit as we ate and toasted to a good race; with all that I had done to remedy the sprain it was significantly improved, but certain positions would remind me that the injury was still there.

Bedtime came fairly early (at least for me), and as we turned off the lights, I heard the sounds of sleep come to Rick, Julie, and Loving fairly quickly.  As I lay in bed staring at the ceiling, I played out the race in my head.  I knew what I was capable of and had been making adjustments to my split predictions with every race run and every training exercise complete.  Being the Tri Nerd that I am, I had the entire course memorized for the most part.  I knew at what mile the long stretches of straightaway would start on the bike course, allowing me to hammer down and get some speed.  I knew where the hills were on the run course.  I even looked up wind speed and direction and plotted out what areas where a headwind could be problematic.  I had been telling everyone all season long that I had hoped to finish the race in under 13 hours, but in my own mind I dreamed of finishing in under the coveted 12 hour mark.  Much like 4 hours is the “magic” time for a lot of marathoners to beat, a sub 12 hour Ironman is a time that many age group athletes chase down.  I’d crunched numbers in my head time and time again, and as I started to feel sleep take hold I ran the math one final time:

Swim – 1hr 10 mins

T1 – 5 mins

Bike – 6 hrs 15 mins

T2 – 5 mins

Run – 4 hrs 30 mins

Overall time:  12hrs 5 mins

It would be close, but if I pushed, it would be possible.  And I love a challenge.

Bring it

4 am came quickly.  We got dressed and gathered our things, meeting Matt downstairs for breakfast.  After our pre-race meal we all loaded into my car and headed to T1, where we would drop off our things needed for the bike portion of the race.  I strapped on my headlamp and got to work arranging my gear – helmet, sunglasses, tri shirt, bike shoes and socks.  In my bag I left my sunscreen and chapstick so it wouldn’t get kicked around by any of my neighbors.  It was still dark outside when the race announcer started calling for participants to start boarding the trolleys that would be taking us two miles upstream to the swim start.  I located Loving and Matt back at the car, and we all donned our wetsuits and collected our swim gear – a new addition to our attire were neoprene swim socks, purchased not to protect our feet from cold water, but to keep them from getting shredded during the long and otherwise barefoot run back to transition from the swim exit.  We all looked like something out of a ninja movie.

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Loving, me, and Matt. Not sure what brought us to the decision that these poses were a good idea.
Yep, this is bringing sexy back right here.
Yep, this is bringing sexy back right here.

At 6 am, just before daybreak, the three of us made our way to the transport.  Saying goodbye to Rick and Julie (who would be playing the difficult and often times very boring role of triathlete cheer and support team), we loaded up into the open air trolley and had a seat in the back row.

Ding ding ding goes the trolley!
Ding ding ding goes the trolley!

The three of us waved to Rick and Julie as our journey began – a chilly but somewhat short drive to the swim start.  Winding through residential streets, the driver took one turn a bit too sharply and I got attacked by a tree (fortunately I saw it coming and covered my face. The wetsuit protected my body from damage).

Only I could be mauled by a shrubbery.  The busload of racers had a good laugh at it all, myself included.

Loving, Matt and I disembarked the trolley along with the other racers and walked a short distance to where most of the other people had gathered, patiently awaiting the call to head towards the beach.  We struck up a conversation with two nearby racers, both of whom were local and very familiar with the race.  We proceeded to pick their brains about some race specifics, and one of them offered up a good bit of advice in that spotting the water tower for the first part of the swim would keep you in the dead center of the channel.

As the sun began to rise over the eastern horizon, the call was made – racers were to make their way down the beach and to the start line.  As we walked through the sand, the three of us remained fairly quiet, the gravity of reality setting in…we were about to start the longest race of our lives.  I fumbled nervously with my GU packet and rattled my Gatorade bottle in anxious anticipation, watching the time on my Garmin tick closer to go time.  With 10 minutes left before the sound of the horn, I waded out into the water to test the temps and, um, get rid of some waste fluid, so to speak.  The water was actually warmer than the air and pretty inviting, bringing me some mental relief in that I wouldn’t have to battle with another cold water swim.

5 minutes until go time.  Loving, Matt, and I meandered into the starting chute with the other racers and stood for the National Anthem.  Then the race announcer started the countdown.  Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” blared over the speakers, pumping up the racers.  My heart rate pulsed along with the beat of the music, and the three of us set our goggles into place and fist bumped each other in a good luck wish.  We knew that it was likely going to be a while before we saw each other on the course again, and I said the only thing that seemed appropriate for the moment:  “Kill it, boys.”

In those final moments, I stared out at the ocean.  My surroundings faded to a blur around me, and all I heard was the rush of blood through my veins.  The nerves calmed, and I fell into a zen-like state.  I was as ready as I was ever going to be.

The sound of the starting gun broke the silence in my head, and I snapped back to reality as the mass of bodies around me sprang forward toward the water.  Many of the swimmers made a sharp turn to the right once they hit the water, but I chose to take a less steep angle and make straight for the channel.  I was betting that the speed of the water would push me in front of a lot of the swimmers that chose the other option.  It was a decision that paid off, as not only did I seem to be passing many of the swimmers to my right, but I also didn’t have to battle as much with the crowd of thrashing arms and kicking legs.

I located the water tower that was previously mentioned by the veteran racer and used that to sight the first half of the swim.  The current was amazingly fast and I felt like I was flying – the shoreline was easily visible as I breathed, and the scenery skimmed by quickly as I glided through the water.  I never felt more comfortable in the swim portion of a race.  I kept the previously learned swim advice in mind as I swam the course, keeping the buoys to my right and making good use of the channel’s current.  The final turn came much quicker than expected, and with less than ½ mile to go I spotted the tallest building near the finish line and honed in on it.  The pack of swimmers grew tighter as we all zoned in on our final destination – the docks of the boat club.

A set of three ladders hovered before me as I neared the dock edge.  I saw the most of the others around me were using the second two to clamber out of the water, so I chose the ladder less-traveled.  I apparently had chosen wisely, because while others struggled to get their feet on the rungs of the ladder, I had no issues.  I expected to feel knock-kneed and wobbly exiting the water, as a long swim can tend to throw off your equilibrium a bit, but I felt good.  I trotted over to the volunteer area where one of them stripped off my wetsuit and tossed it to me (in record time, I might add), and off I trotted to transition.

The run into transition was about 400 yards, give or take, and the time to traverse that (as well as take a moment to rinse the salt water off in the wonderfully warm showers) was included in the swim portion of the race.

PROJECTED SWIM TIME: 1:10:00

ACTUAL SWIM TIME: 53:56 (my fastest swim by far, thanks to the current)

TIME DIFFERENCE: 15 mins 4 sec

Ahead of schedule but mindful of the clock, I raced into transition, spotting Rick and Julie as I passed and waving to them as they cheered.

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I made sure to cover as much of me as possible with sunscreen, as I knew I was going to be spending the rest of the day in the sun.  That took a little longer than expected, but T1 otherwise went smoothly.  I grabbed my bike and trotted to the exit to start stage two of the race –  Amie the tri bike and I were going to spend some quality time together.

PROJECTED T1 TIME: 5:00

ACTUAL T1 TIME: 6:19

TIME DIFFERENCE:  -1 min 19 sec

With just about 14 minutes in the bank, I knew I had some cushion to work with but I hoped to add to that during the bike ride.  One of the race volunteers complimented my bike and wished me luck as I hopped on and started off on my 112 mile journey.  I could hear Rick and Julie cheering while I rode off – and anyone who races knows that support means everything.  I smiled…now was my time to show the world what I could do.

Since the race had a mass start, I expected to be passed by several men on the bike.  I was right about that – within the first 20 miles I bet 50 men zoomed by me on their top of the line tri bikes (you know, the ones you can hear coming before you can see them on your six).  Within the first couple of miles, one gentleman caught me and smiled as he passed.  “Time to make the donuts!” he yelled out to me, and I laughed in response.  I knew what he meant – it was time to hammer down!

The first several miles of the course were on a dead straight path, and the winds were calm.  I used this time to settle into a steady pace and warm up my legs for the crush fest that was to come.  My hamstring felt good, so that was one less thing to worry about.  I always race on what is termed “Rate of Perceived Effort,” meaning that I don’t go by speed but rather how I feel and what percentage of output I believe I should be exerting.  My goal was to sit somewhere around 60 to 70% effort, in order to conserve energy for the dreaded marathon that was to follow.  Usually this output would average out to around 18 mph on the bike, but today I was sitting more around 19.5 mph.  The flat, smooth roads and the calm air (plus the extra energy of actually RACING) gave me a bit of a boost, and I was more than okay with that.  The miles ticked down and before I knew it I was already 30 miles into the race and passed the first refill station.  I had plenty of fluids on my bike at that point so I opted to skip it and keep riding.

I don’t remember much of the scenery from the bike ride – you don’t see much when you’re tucked in aero position and trying to track down the next rider in front of you.  But I did pass by a cotton field, which I thought was really cool.  During another long stretch around mile 45, I got passed by a pace line of 7 or 8 riders.  Now, those not familiar with rules of triathlon need to know that this is a form of cheating.  Triathlon is meant to be a solo sport, meaning you do everything under your own power.  Anything less than 4 bike lengths distance between riders is called drafting, which means the rider following the one in front is saving energy by getting in that rider’s draft.  In a perfect world, everyone would follow the rules and not cheat, but I don’t believe I’ve raced a tri yet where I didn’t see some form of drafting going on.

So, I got out of my aero position and let all of these cheaters pass me, thinking they would continue on their way, and I could resume my pace once they got out of my draft zone.  Yet as the last rider passed my front wheel, the entire pace line drifted in front of me and slowed down, effectively pulling me into their draft!  I grumbled to myself as I coasted a bit more to pull back from the pace line, but no matter how I slowed up they just wouldn’t pull away from me.

My response was to do the only thing I knew to do: hammer down and pass all of them.  From a coasting speed of 16 mph, I hit the pedals hard and sprinted by all of them at upwards of 25 mph.  I was pissed that I had to waste energy to get in front of all of them, and I let them know it – “What’s up with the line of cheaters here?  Don’t you people know the rules of triathlon?”  I yelled at them loud enough for all of them to hear me.  I saw a few look back at me sheepishly, and two of the men immediately broke their place in the line and started off on their own.  The two people in the lead of this pace line, and man and a woman, decided to pass me back once I settled back into my cadence – their uniforms both said CORREDOR on the back.  That’s right, I’m calling them both out and I hope they read this.  I kept them both in my sights for a while before settling back into my own world again.  Before I knew it, I was coming up on the Special Needs Station, where racers could make a pit stop to use the bathroom, refill drinks, or refill their bento boxes with food.  I did a quick double check of my stocks and realized I had plenty of food to get me through the rest of the ride, and had no need to use the bathroom.  I chose to press on, only slowing to grab a bottle of electrolyte drink from a volunteer to replace one of my empty bottles.

By mile 70 I was starting to wonder how Loving and Matt were doing.  The bike course was smooth and the sun shined brightly in the sky by this time, and as much as I was enjoying the ride, I was growing a bit bored.  By some twist of fate, I heard a vehicle approaching me from behind and recognized the sound of the motor as my own – Rick and Julie found me and the timing was perfect!  They cheered and rung cowbells and asked me how I was feeling.  I responded that I was fine and immediately inquired about the guys, to which they responded that Loving was looking strong and that Matt was struggling a bit but was hanging in there.  We made some small talk for a few more seconds before they drove off ahead of me.  Seeing them was the boost of energy I needed to get through the final stages of the ride.

They caught these pics of me by driving ahead and pulling over at a gas station!
They caught these pics of me by driving ahead and pulling over at a gas station!

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With about 8 miles to go, I ate my final Chia bar and chugged some more water, backing off my pace a bit and spinning out my legs as the course headed over a few overpasses and into Wrightsville Beach, where T2 would be staged.  I did a mental self-check of my body: back and shoulders felt good.  Neck felt fine considering I just raced 90 percent of an ironman course in aero position.  Legs felt really good, as in I didn’t feel the pain in my hamstring at all.  I was pleasantly surprised at how good I felt as I came into transition!

PROJECTED BIKE TIME: 6:15:00

ACTUAL BIKE TIME: 5:51:24

TIME DIFFERENCE: 18 mins 36 sec

TOTAL TIME BANKED:  32 mins 21 sec

T2 actually was staged inside the very same building that packet pickup was held the day before.  As I crossed the timing mat, a volunteer was there to take my bike and rack it for me.  “Valet bike parking,” I chuckled to myself as I continued through the makeshift corridors where I located my T2 bag.  Heading into the changing area, I sat on a chair to reapply sunscreen to my arms, as well as Aquaphor to my feet.  As I sat during those brief couple of minutes, I felt my body start to stiffen up.

In the words of the famous Sweet Brown, “Ain’t nobody got time fo dat.”  I slipped on my shoes and made my way to the run course.

PROJECTED T2 TIME: 5:00

ACTUAL T2 TIME: 6:50

TIME DIFFERENCE:  -1 min 50 sec

TOTAL TIME BANKED: 30 mins 31 sec

It was around 2 pm when I started the run.  I’ve run plenty of marathons before, so I knew the importance of pacing, especially now that the sun was high in the sky and it was plenty hot by this point.  But your legs always feel a little different when you start a run straight off the bike – you feel like a slug, but usually you are running faster than you think you are.  I strode up a short but relatively steep hill and then to the left before hitting a turnaround point and heading back from whence I came.  The course took me across the boardwalk and along the ocean, where I saw Rick and Julie again cheering me as I approached.  I smiled and waved to the both of them as I headed out onto the main part of the course, down a cobblestone path and then onto the asphalt streets.

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Well, at least this was my version of smiling and waving. 🙂
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When you’re this far into a race, this is about as much smile you have the energy to give.

Mile 1 ticked off at a sub 9 minute pace – which was more than a minute faster than I wanted to be!  I grimaced and forced myself to slow down, knowing I had a long road ahead of me.

Not too long after getting onto the asphalt roads, the course took you up a really long and steep hill.  Everyone was walking it, myself included, but nearing the top I began an easy jog again.  The aid stations, spaced out about every 1.5 miles or so, all had different themes, from football to superheroes to luau party, and many had some music to groove to which helped to pass the time.  I’d pass a runner here and be passed there, generally wishing each other luck as continued forward at our own pace.  Another steep hill awaited me just before the course entered a park, where the remainder of the loop would be staged.  The good news was that the shade provided some respite from the sun.  The bad news was that the air was stagnant and therefore still very warm.  Fortunately many of the aid stations had ice that I could dump into my sports bra to help stay cool.  The sloshing of the ice completely eliminates any possibility of me being a stealthy runner, but it’s absolutely worth the noise to prevent the onset of heat exhaustion.

At mile 4, I passed Ms. Corredor, the woman who was drafting in the pace line on the bike several hours earlier.  Ahh, sweet justice!  Now I just needed to keep her behind me!

At the turnaround point near mile 7, I slowed to make my 180 around the cone…and I felt my hamstring cramp up.  I walked for a few seconds to attempt to shake it out, but the more I walked the worse it got.  I popped another Endurolyte tab in the hopes that it would help, but I knew that I wasn’t dealing with electrolyte imbalances.  This was the damned injury rearing its ugly head, much to my dismay.  I attempted to run again and the pain persisted, but it wasn’t any worse than when I was walking.  Might as well run while I still had the ability!

Around mile 10, I ran into Loving heading out for his first loop.  He was smiling and looked to be in good shape but he said he felt like crap when I asked how he was doing.  We both urged each other forward with a hand slap and continued to head in opposite directions.  It wasn’t much longer before I was heading into the main area to finish my first lap.  I caught sight of Rick and Julie again and asked about Matt – they responded that he still hadn’t come back in from the bike portion of the race yet, and that made me nervous.  Was he involved in a fall?  Did he get sick while riding?  The thoughts raced through my mind as I continued my run to the next turnaround and into the next special needs station.   And the timing couldn’t have been better because I REALLY needed to go to the bathroom!  I took this as a sign that I hydrated well while on the bike, and hopped into a Porto-John to drop some liquid weight.  I glanced at my watch briefly and saw I was still making good time despite the pit stop and my aching leg.

As I left the special needs area and headed out for lap 2, I heard Rick yelling for me – he announced that Matt had just come in from the ride.  I was so relieved!  Knowing he was okay made me forget about my leg for a little while as I continued to push forward.

That moment was fairly short-lived, however, as the big hill met me again and forced me to a walk.  My hamstring radiated pain from my butt all the way down my leg.  I was visibly limping by mile 15, but I’d be damned if I was going to quit.  I spotted Loving again right around mile 16 (he would have been around mile 10).  I think we both looked pretty haggard by this point, but we smiled and offered some more encouraging words to each other as we continued on our separate ways.  After that, I developed a new game plan – run 0.4 miles, walk 0.1 miles, and repeat.   This allowed me to manage both the leg pain and the slow onset of exhaustion until around mile 20, when the wheels fell off.

They say that a marathon is 20 miles of hope and 6 miles of reality.  I have experienced that many times, but never so much as I did during this race.  It was like a switch flipped once I hit that 20 mile mark, and my body just shut down.  I’d try to run and would make it a few feet before being forced to a walk again.  At the next aid station, I took my final Gu as well as an orange wedge and a couple cups of water, and prayed that would be enough to pull me through these final 6 miles.  My leg was screaming at me to stop, and my feet were starting to second that motion.  I wanted to cry, or scream, or punch a tree – anything to just get rid of the frustration I was experiencing.  But then I started reasoning with myself – I was 134+ miles into this race and I was not about to let these final 6 miles get the best of me.  I heard Rick in my head telling me not to quit.  I reminded myself of all the other insane races I’ve done that were tough and wanted to break me, and yet I survived.  That was enough to snap me out of my funk.

Dear Logic, I love you.

New plan: run until I could not stand to run any longer, and then walk 0.1 miles.  Sometimes I’d make it almost 0.5 miles, sometimes it would be just over 0.25 miles, but I kept my eyes up and my feet moving.  The sun had long since set and darkness was setting in.  I did not bring a headlamp because the race director had announced that the course was going to be lit by portable lights, which was true, but there were some spots where a headlamp would have come in handy.  By mile 22, I looked at my watch again and saw the time ticking away.  I knew I had to make my final move now if I were to try to finish under the coveted 12 hour mark.  I looked up ahead and finally caught a glimpse of Matt for the first time since before the race started.  Despite the rough bike ride, he was smiling and looking strong on the run.  I yelled and cheered for him to keep up the great pace and I continued to head for home.  As I plodded forward, a woman caught me and started making small talk, which I was happy to engage.  Talking is such a nice distraction from pain!  We chatted about our swim and bike experiences and other races we had done, and the food we were going to eat when we finished this damned race.  I glanced down at my watch again and saw another mile had ticked by – 3 miles to go!  I announced that to my comrade, who didn’t have a watch, and that sparked her to make her final push.  She urged me to stay with her but I just couldn’t hold on, and I bid her farewell as I resumed my plodding pace.  I was okay with that though.  I was going to finish this thing.

Not one minute after I found myself alone again I saw Loving heading back out, this time with Julie running alongside him.  She had mentioned that she wanted to get a run in that day, and this was the perfect opportunity for her to run with her husband to keep him company.  We said hi to each other for the final time as I made my way towards the park exit.

I was in the home stretch and could hear the announcer over the loudspeaker at the finish line.  That was enough to keep me moving.  I made my way down the last hill, letting gravity take me as I basically let my body go into a controlled fall.  Rounding the corner, I saw the lights of the finish chute glowing in front of me, about 0.3 miles away.  No stopping now, I have to keep running!  I grit my teeth and opened up my stride as best as I could, telling my legs to shut up for 2 more minutes.  As I neared the finish chute I spotted Rick on the sidelines and I pointed at him.  He was holding our team flag, and I grabbed it from him and held it high as I ran in the remainder of the chute and across the finish line.

And over the loudspeaker, I hear, “Andé Wegner, you have finished!”

I did it.  I finished my first Iron Distance Triathlon!

I looked down at my watch and smiled…

PROJECTED RUN TIME: 4:30:00

ACTUAL RUN TIME: 4:55:23

TIME DIFFERENCE: -25 mins 33 sec

TOTAL TIME: 11:53:50

The bike and the swim saved me.  I got my sub 12 hour finish.

Rick met me at the finish line with a beautiful bouquet of flowers and a huge hug.  I must have held onto him for 5 minutes.  My legs were shaking and I could barely stand.  He helped me to walk over to the massage station, where a wonderful young woman stretched me out and worked on my hamstring for a bit.  I felt soooo much better by the time she finished with me, to the point that I could stand and walk with minimal discomfort. Right after I finished my massage we spotted Matt coming in from his first loop, and we cheered for him to keep up the good work.

Rick had my post-race bag, so I grabbed that from him and went into the changing room to put on warm, fresh clothes.  When I exited, he raised up the surprise he had bought – a lovely finisher’s jacket!  From there, we both walked to the truck to pick up everyone’s special needs bags so the guys wouldn’t need to do that when they finished.  Rick and Julie already had all of our bikes racked up on the car, and gathered all of our transition bags as well (this race allows the racer to designate someone to pick up their things when the racer is done with them, which is awesome).  Those two were the BEST race support anyone could ask for!

As the two of us made our way back to the post-race hangout area, I sat at a table while Rick got me a few slices of pizza and a soda to scarf down.  We weren’t there too long when we heard Loving’s name announced over the loudspeaker that he had finished!  Both of us headed over to the chute area and found Loving and Julie and gave our congratulations.  Rick handed Loving a pizza slice, which disappeared quickly.  We returned to our table to relax and eat and recount the moments of the day.  It was then that I learned that Matt’s ride was foiled by a rubbing front brake – he could barely muster a 15 mph average for the majority of the ride.  I couldn’t imagine having that happen to me, and honestly I don’t know if I would have been able to run after taking a leg beating like he did!  I applauded his fortitude and persistence, and was proud that he didn’t quit!

After eating and having a few sodas, the four of us made our way back to the spectator area to wait for Matt to finish.  Julie and Loving sat up in the bleacher area, but Rick and I stood near the fence, cheering in every single racer that came down the chute.  We saw Susan Haag finish by dancing through the chute (she’s always entertaining).  We saw men in knee braces, women who were limping and crying, people of all shapes and sizes…it was amazing to see.  Finally, in the distance, I see a familiar shadow blazing towards the finish.  “We have a sprinter!” the announcer yelled as Matt came charging down the chute.  The four of us screamed for him as he crossed the finish line.  The smile on his face was priceless.

We did it.  All three of us attained our goal of completing an Iron Distance race.  We all got some photos of us holding up our medals, and Rick even got a video of me doing a goofy dance to show that my legs were still functional after 140.6 miles.  Then, we all piled into my car and headed for the hotel.

DSC_0422 DSC_0427 DSC_0434

Sleep came fast for all of us that night, and when I woke up the following morning I felt surprisingly good.  The five of us met for breakfast in the hotel and another rehashing of the race, and then we all packed up our things to hit the road.  I told Matt that I wasn’t going to hold him to buying me breakfast due to his bike debacle, and we joked about that for a bit.  Then we said our goodbyes and went our separate ways.

Ten months.  Ten months of training.  Ten months of long hours in the saddle, on foot, or in the water.  Ten months all boiled down to just under 12 hours of performance.  All that time put in was well worth it, and I’ll never forget what it felt like to cross that finish line.  I placed 6th out of 27 in my age group, which considering the circumstances, ain’t too bad at all.

The Battleship that serves as the backdrop to the finish line, taken moments before I finished.
The Battleship that serves as the backdrop to the finish line, taken moments before I finished.

For the record, Ms. Corredor the cheating drafter was in my age group.  She placed 8th, almost 20 minutes behind me.  Cheaters never win!

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