Race Report Part Tri: If at first you do succeed don’t tri again!
The melting point: As I left the transition area, I hit a curve in the parking garage and Coach was positioned there to cheer me on the start of the Death March (aka Marathon). I was tired, scared of the marathon and started to feel a good cry start. My throat was closing up and the tears were forming. I was tired enough that I didn’t even care. Coach was perceptive enough to see it was coming. She looked at me and said, “You can do this, go, go, go….”
I knew as soon as it started that something was definitely wrong. In the middle of July I had a similar experience. I was out on a long ride in Brown County and felt like crap. I called Coach and she knew immediately a break down was imminent. She found me in the middle of my ride and made me drink 20 ounces of Gatorade. She followed me the next few hours by car until I finished my ride.
So now I am entering the run and I realize, Duh, I have been here before. I looked for the first volunteer and in a shrill voice of desperation I asked where the Gatorade table is located. Unfortunately, the Gatorade table was a quarter of a mile away. I knew that the first hour of the marathon I was going to devote to jogging. I “quickly” jogged to the first table and drank two large cups of Gatorade endurance. I knew that I would be walking for 30 seconds through every rest station and I was committed to drinking the “Kool Aid”.
After about 30 minutes I started to perk up. I noticed I didn’t feel like crap anymore and I was looking forward to starting my run. I don’t remember a ton of the run, but I do remember feeling very focused about running the marathon. A lot of my success for the day depended upon running the whole marathon. I felt like if I accomplished that one goal, I would know that I truly completed an Ironman.
I was also doing some mental math. If I just averaged four miles an hour I would finish by the cut off time (17 hours). I decided anything over that was gravy!
I learned quickly that most people were truly on a death march. People were walking alone, walking in groups of two or three and some were sitting on the curb looking like they were hit by a truck. As you are running along it is so interesting to just receive snippets of conversations. Everything is disjointed, out of context and damn strange. I passed two guys walking and one of them was bragging about his 10k time. He was walking! Other people were bragging about their bike time. They were walking. I later learned that I had passed almost 400 people on the run. Wow. Trapped in the collective streaming consciousness! A little too close to reality TV.
As I passed people I noticed that many of them were incredibly supportive of my ability to run. Unfortunately, it was obvious from the odor that a few lacked my fortunate intestinal fortitude. Whew. The only comment that got to me a bit was a woman (walking) who under her breath mentioned that I was having a nice sprinters finish. I knew I was tired and a bit crabby because I thought about responding with some profanity laced line pointing out that I had run the whole flippin marathon. Prof wisely said to let it go.
About six miles in I was feeling very good. My favorite part of the run? Running around the Camp Randall field. The turf was soft and inviting. My legs thanked the University of Wisconsin and their amazing stadium. After an hour, I felt great and started to crank out the miles. I kept drinking Gatorade and walking the required 30 seconds. I hit the area by the lake and loved running on the trail next to the water.
The hardest part of this run was where the picture above was taken. Twice on the looped course you had to run two steep hills referred to as Observatory Hill. I ran both of them and kept reminding myself that this was nothing compared to Bloomington.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the support team had their hardest part of the day ahead of them. The course is great for a runner because it basically stays in the same area with lots of little side loops. For the support crew, it was almost impossible to figure out from the rudimentary map the Ironman folks provide. Mile markers were pretty much absent and appeared in strange places. Finding mile 16 after nothing since mile 9 seemed a bit strange. Huh? The team decided to split themselves up along the course. “What about Bob” was on the bike, the Prof was on foot and Coach was assigned the turnaround/finish area because I needed to know that I was running back to her!
Bob and the Prof worked their collective asses off. They both developed carpal tunnel syndrome answering the incredible amount of cell phone calls and text messages they received. I think at some point Bob just started hanging up on everybody. Prof swore, a lot, and mentioned something about divorcing the Bad Attitude Racing Club. She wishes it was that easy to get out of the club!
I knew when I was running, to quote Lily Tomlin, “We were all in this alone!” Just seeing Bob , Prof and Coach made such a difference over those 26.2 miles. As I ran back to the turnaround, I knew that I would be able to see the finish line. I also knew my special needs bag was waiting for me. I saw Coach and mentioned that I was going to finish this (insert profanity) and that I was feeling good and determined (not to mention sassy).
Around this time I started to develop a side stitch. I also heard an echo of a previous calf injury and I decided my body was trying to tell me something. My stomach felt sloshy from the Gatorade and I soon realized that I probably needed some salt. For the first time in my life, I asked the volunteers for some chicken broth. She brought it too me and I chugged it down for the sodium. I soon realized that this was the best thing I had ever drank in my whole life. I am not kidding. I was giddy with excitement when I realized I could have more at EVERY rest stop!
As I relive the experience, I am certain if they had place a salt block in the middle of the road every few miles, I would have gotten on all fours and licked that puppy ’til my tongue fell off. The volunteers on the run were amazing. They would immediately get you anything you asked for and more. I am quite certain if I had asked for a banana and requested they chew it first and then place it in my mouth, they would have done so gleefully. I resisted the urge.
The amazing part of the run was that I suddenly noticed someone had turned out the lights. I didn’t see the sun go down and I was amazed that I was running in the dark (not an unusual sensation). It was only appropriate considering I started this journey by early morning runs in the dark courtesy of our new governor who thought Daylight savings was a brilliant idea!
The wall. I hit mile 18 and waited for the dreaded wall. I looked again at Mile 19 and it wasn’t to be found anywhere. Peaked around mile 20 and everything was still clear. Decided at Mile 21 I must have left it in my hotel room. Reached Mile 25 and felt tired. Still no wall…just my body reminding me that at some point it would be a good idea to stop the madness. Got one last hit of my favorite chicken broth and headed for home.
I could hear the finish and thought there was a part of me that didn’t want this journey to end. I got over it in about a millisecond. As I entered the shoot I reveled in the people, the music, the accomplishment and the goal. Suddenly, I saw Coach and I ran over and hugged her. I told her we did it! I released her and decided that I wanted to go through the finish holding my nephews bracelet high. He has been the true Ironman.
I don’t really remember the announcer giving me the famous, “Sue Aquila, you are an Ironman!” I remember crossing the line and knowing I could stop now. Two volunteers grabbed me immediately and gave me my medal, schwag, space blanket and had me take a picture. I realized they were also doing a preliminary medical assessment. Everyone knew that I was doing great and they released me to Coach and the team.
I was so excited because our daughter got to watch me finish on Ironman live. I have always talked to her about the importance of trying your hardest and never quitting. She is now a young woman who lives the same principles and it has served her well. I was so pleased to walk the walk or swim the swim or bike the bike or run the run for her. Once and a while we get to back up the words with the action.
After the race we got to see some real Ironmen! People who finished with just minutes to spare or people who missed finishing by minutes. We cheered them on and yelled our support. We drank beer, ate Greek food and laughed until 1:30am. I think muscle relaxers got passed around like M&M’s but maybe it was actually M&M’s!
The next day we went to the race headquarters and I watched all the poor bastards lined up to sign up again. I was so happy that I was not one of them. I went into the finishers shop to buy a jacket (which I have worn the the last seven days straight…including during my sleep!). As I was shopping, this guy comes up to me and asks if I am Sue. I say yes and ask why? He mentions that he cheered me on all day during the race. He wasn’t even stalker material…just a nice guy spectating. The whole week was as close as I will ever feel to being a professional athlete!
I am proud of this race. I spent the celebration of my 40th year on a mission to find out if I could live the dream. I remember watching the Ironman on ABC’s Wide World of Sport (you remember…the agony of defeat…) as a kid and thinking what an incredible event. The dream became my reality and I have gotten to know that my well is a bit deeper than I could have imagined. I know that I will never be a “talented” athlete. I forgot to show up for that part of the genetic lottery. I do know that I have the mental fortitude to persevere despite the pain and the exhaustion. I finished the race without ever seriously contemplating stopping or quitting. There were times that I thought a psych evaluation at some point might be appropriate.
The support of my family, friends, and team mates I have our incredible. I can never thank each of them enough for helping me to see through the walls and visit the other side. I am glad they let me back in after my visit. Thank you…all my love…
A special thank you to my sponsors (not really sponsors just the crew):
IU Exercise Phys Lab
Tylenol 8 Hour
St. John Associates
Bad Attitude Racing Club
Bloomington Bagel Co.
PS Do I think about another one? Yes and no. I accomplished my goal and I am happy. Could I finish faster? Absolutely. As of now…I am happy and content.