IM 70.3 AustinIt was time… time to find out JUST what I was made of!!! Time to find out if all those crazy hours of training, all that time spent away from my boys, from my friends were a waste… Time to see if this new ‘me’ I’ve been working on could pass the “Iron” test!!!  I was excited… and scared…. nervous… and anxious!!!  Look at all these people that “look” the part! Where would I fit in? How did I size up?

The prerace morning was spent in a flurry of final checks, double and triple… butterflies… shoving unwanted by my nervous stomach nutrition down my throat because my body would be needing it… REQUIRING it VERY SOON!!!! Rushing to the Arena where I would end my journey later that day, rushing to get on the bus because OF COURSE I was running late…. Listening to what seemed like idle chatter by the other athletes… but if you listened close enough you could hear the undercurrents of anticipation… and a nervousness  that we ALL must have been feeling as we rode the short distance to where our day’s journey would begin! My mind was just racing…. Thoughts, millions of them, were swirling about my head while butterflies, millions of THEM, swirled about my body… Every nerve ending was awake… and a buzz with excitement!!!  We arrived with just 10 minutes to get everything situated in our transition area where our bikes that we had checked in the day before, were waiting patiently like stoic statues, ready for their part in the day’s events…. But they will have to wait just a little while longer because FIRST is the Swim!!!

There is a flourish of activity as everyone is putting on their wetsuits… getting their race number marked on their arm and that time honored tradition of their age marked on the left calf, a mark that is something to be proud of!!! People are hugging their loved ones. There is laughter in the air amidst the tension.  Friends and family and well-wishers alike are jumbled in with the athletes… In the sea of wet suits you could see the athletes jumping up and down, swinging their arms, trying to warm their bodies on this chilly, chilllllly morning! The upbeat, lively music that has been the background noise for this scene hushes some as the announcer calls out for the first wave to come down to the water…. I am in the 6th wave so will start in 20 minutes but the Pro’s go first…

The Pro’s… A group of people who these races make up their livelihood… who dedicate their lives to this sport!  No jobs, just training, training, training…. Unlike the rest of us who will follow, who must figure out swim schedules, bike schedules, run schedules…. Oh AND work schedules, family schedules, friend schedules and make them ALL work together… and we do this for FUN!  Crazy, isn’t it??!!! Welcome to the world of Triathlons!!!  The Gun goes off and the Pro’s take off as the next wave walks up to the water for their turn… and this is how it will go until all waves (groups of people separated mostly by age and gender) have entered the water, only a few minutes behind each other.  They call out for my wave… I hug my friend, she wishes me luck and I walk down to the staging area…. Toes frozen, stickers in the grass and now in my feet, runny nose….

WHOOP WHOOP!!!! This is IT!!! All those mornings waking up at 4:30 to be at the pool in Shreveport by 5:30 to swim with the master’s group I had joined just a few months before, all those hours in the pool, all those laps…. I was READY!!!! The swim… really one of my favorite of the three disciplines… I can just stretch out, relax, get into my rhythm… Sure, I was nervous …and excited …and anxious … and the butterflies threatened to take off with me… but I was so glad I got to start this nonsense with the swim…. Ha!!!! …………. POOOOW!!!! The gun fired and it was Mass Pandemonium!!! And it STAYED mass pandemonium for 1.2 miles!!! You would have thought these people were RACING!!!  Immediately my new goggles I bought because my old ones kept fogging up…. FOGGED UP!!! And instead of stopping to rinse them out I just kept going (Wrong choice!!!) There were elbows and knees flying, feet kicking…. Hands slapping ya upside the head!!! People swam up on me, I swam up on people… I’d apologize and scoot over to find and open pocket, take about two strokes and BAMM someone would be all UP in my space AGAIN!!! I was never able to fully just relax and get into that zone, so I just focused on the buoys; reaching one at a time amid all the craziness… I would reach one and begin sighting the next and see all those swimmers in front of me filling the space between me and it, splashing water, arms arching, rhythmic, wild and beautiful….  We were in this together… well, KINDA… And this was how it went… until finally…. FINALLY there were no more buoys and you could see the shore filled with cheering onlookers who hollered and shouted as the swimmers exited the water.

Now, when you are going into a race, there is always a big discussion about what your goals are going to be… for some it’s time, for others it’s the experience, for some it’s a combination of the two… which is where I was mentally. I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect for my time, but I DID have an ‘I better not be SLOWER than’ goal.  And when I came out of the water my time was NOT what I wanted it to be 🙁 45 minutes was pretty much my ‘I better not be slower than…’  Goal and 45 was my time… (Just Saying… I was disappointed… I could/should have done better…. But there was NO time for pouting….)

Ok… On to the next leg of the race…  The Bike! Run up the hill thru the stickers, strip out of my wetsuit and jump on!!! Leading up to the race, everyone was abuzz about how they would dress for the bike… The weather was going to be cold but you will warm up on the bike pretty quick…. and time is, of course, (because these crazy people thinks it’s a race) of the essence, so you don’t want to have to stop at ANYTIME to strip off any of the layers you put on for warmth initially… Well, I had my little rookie plan! (Wrong choice…AGAIN!!!)  I froze the entire bike ride!!! I have to say the bike is the hardest for me simply because it gives me WAY too much time to think!!! This is not just a physical sport but a HUGE mental one as well!!! Initially, it was just ‘keep moving, you’ll warm up’ ….The hills were BRUTAL, the head winds were BRUTAL, and the CHILL was BRUTAL… ‘Just keep moving’… With this distance race, the nutrition is very important because not only did you just burn off whatever you had for breakfast during the swim, but now you are faced with hours on the bike and then hours of running… Your body MUST have fuel to carry you through all that… So… You consume calories (eat and drink) on the bike… Whether you want to or not!!!  My stomach did NOT want too… ‘Just keep moving’ … ‘Eat’ … ‘Drink’ … ‘Just keep moving’ … pounding headache from the cold air rushing into my helmet onto my wet hair… ‘Our father who art in Heaven…’

There were many cyclists that fell victim to the stickers in the area of the bike transition and to see them on the side of the road with flat tires made my heart go out to them… They were either fixing them as fast as they could or they were standing there looking at their bike with defeat written on their face! The preparation for this kind of event is consuming with hour after hour of training… To have the finish line taken away so quickly for some of them was disheartening, I’m sure!

As I just passed mile 19, I saw a woman on the side of the road flipping her bike upside down and I called out did she need help …  ‘YES’ was her clipped response and in it I could feel the desperation in her voice… And in that instant I knew I had to stop… Whatever was going to come of my bike time didn’t matter, if I could help her, I would… By the time I got over to the side of the road and was able to stop, I was probably 40 feet from her, but the other bikes were flying by fast and CLOSE, too close to even turn my bike around between the scrub brush on one side of me, the cyclists on the other.  With the threat of stickers in the grass, I had to quickly yet awkwardly walk my bike backwards to get to her… She told me she had already had two flats and no co2 left. (For those of you who don’t do this sport, a Co2 cartridge will air up the tire instead of a pump… so I’ve heard…. I’ve never actually had a flat (KNOCK ON WOOD) and would have NO idea how to even work it! Glad she clearly did!!!) I immediately dug into my tool bag for a cartridge I had and gave it to her… The race rules say that we can’t accept help on or off the course or we may be disqualified, we discussed that and I got back on my bike to head off before either of us got caught!!!  Once on the bike and back on the course came the prayer:  ‘Ok God…. I just gave her ONE of my TWO Co2 cartridges…. and I have two tires…. Please be with me!’

Mile 25…Complete and total mental break down….. This year has been uncomfortable and challenging (everyday) to say the least!!! Between a new career that is intellectually hard, two horrible wrecks involving both of my older sons who miraculously survived, it’s been emotionally hard. Starting a walk/run program in March and becoming someone I never DREAMED I could be, physically hard… It’s just been HARD… and what I was trying to accomplish was…. HARD … and…. I just wanted to go home… The tears started and they just poured and poured… I missed my boys… I just wanted to be home with them… On the couch snuggled up under a blanket… With popcorn and CHOCOLATE watching a movie… I thought of my friend who lost her battle w diabetes at the age of 52 just 3 days before the race and I cried for her …and her young daughters who lost their momma and for the fact I couldn’t lend her strength to fight more… I cried because it is soooo stinking HARD raising teenage boys as a single mom trying to make ends meet and here I was being selfish, doing something for myself… I had spent hours and hours training for this very moment and here I was wishing sooo much I could just be back home with them…. ‘Our father who art in Heaven….’  The tears subsided…

Mile 30…

Mile 35…

We would go up these hills with our legs pedaling in hyper mode, but our bikes and bodies moving in matrix mode… We would just look over and smile at one another… and talk… ‘I PAID for this?’ … ‘WHO signed me up for this???’… ‘Hey, Hottie, I like your bike!’ (KIDDING!) …

Mile 40…. There must have been a million guys in their thirties in the race that day because that is who I was getting passed by! They were all down in the aero position, on their crazy fast bikes…. And me on my little efficiency bike, body acting like a parachute catching all the wind… They wouldn’t have passed so easy if it was my priority to spend money on a crazy fast bike instead of taking care of my kids… I’m just keeping it real here!! 😉 …

Mile 45… (REALIZATION… Wait….I’m gonna have to run a HALF MARATHON when I get off here!!!…. ‘Our Father, who art in Heaven…’ (Actually the ‘Our Fathers’ happened a LOT more frequently than I’ve mentioned) …

Mile 50…… ……… ……… the last 6 miles were the Loooooooongest 6 miles of my LIFE…

And then…. there was the arena where we would dismount our bikes and begin the last ‘leg’ of the race… The Run!!!! THIS is the part I was most nervous about! A Half Marathon!!!! I’ve never run that far in my LIFE!!! Could I even DO it??? My training plan that I followed went by times not distances on the runs…. Would my ‘get away sticks’ be able to handle it after such a long arduous trek on the bike?… But… This was for Donna, too! I had taped the word ‘diabetes’ to the bottom of my shoe and even if I had to walk those 13.1 miles that diabetes was gonna feel it!!!!  I (slowly) took off!!!!

The run was a 3 lap course which meant we would go out and back 3 times, passing the finish twice before we got to take it… Kinda cruel if you ask me!!!  But the people on the run were fantastic!!! The ‘feed stations’ had wonderful volunteers in good spirits and supportive!!! There just seemed to be a sense of ‘This is IT!’  “We’ve come this far!” “The final bit!!!” When we finish we would be 70.3 IRONMEN!!!!! It was a looooong run, for sure, but the people gave you energy!!! The crowd up by the arena, complete strangers cheered you on as you passed and you knew… JUST KNEW that what you were doing was remarkable!!! To be a part of that was such an honor!!!! I had already given up on my time… After the slow swim, and stopping to help someone on the bike, I just wanted to enjoy what was left! And I did!!!

There was an Amputee with a Cheetah leg who was headed in the opposite direction the look of shear grit and determination on his face and I had to turn around and chase him down, give him a smile and a high five and tell him how inspired I was by him!!!  There was a little, tiny, white haired, 68 year old (remember, the age is marked on the calf) lady with skin that had been kissed by years in the sun and sinewy muscles hewn from years of dedicated exercising, who flew past me on the run and made me smile even more! There were runners in costumes that made us laugh and cheer!  I ran for a while with a girl who was doing this with Team In Training, the organization I began the walk/run training with in the beginning of this year until I got shin splints! They raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society… It was an honor to run by her side!!! And there was my training partner… My partner in crime and we would high five and GRIN when we passed each other!!!

And now I had completed two laps… The last lap was really a blur! But boy, when you got about a mile away from the arena that last time, you could just hear the roar of the stadium and the music and the announcer…. and it gave you energy to pick it up… and sprint like I hadn’t just done 1.2 miles of swimming and 56 miles of biking and 12 miles of running!!!! UP those hills, around those turns…. FINISH LINE, here I COME!!!! I FINALLY got to take the turn to the right and run into the building (it was an indoor finish) and I could see the finish line coming closer and closer!!! And my TIME!!! Just over 7 hours!!!!! UNBELIEVABLE!!! I thought for sure I would be over the 8:30 hour mark that means the race doesn’t even COUNT!!! Like, even if you put it on FACEBOOK, it STILL won’t count!!!

And I just RAN!!!!

THANK YOU, God for being with me the whole way!!!!! Thank you, Thank you, THANK you for this most precious GIFT!!!!

I CROSSED THE LINE!!!! I was a 70.3 IRONCHICK!!!!!!

I ran up to the first guy I saw (actually he was the timing chip guy) and high fived him and then jumped in his arms!!! (Fortunately for him I remembered to put deodorant on at the bike to run transition!!!  I am a courteous racer! Ha!)  They took my timing chip, I was given my medal… and my finishers hat… And wrapped in a blanket… and there was my friend ….waiting for me at the end of the shoot with open arms and I just ran into them and laughed and cried and laughed some more!!!

We waited for my training buddy at the finish line…. BIG HUGS when she came in!!! And it was AMAZING to watch the people cross the line!!!!! Soooooo INSPIRING!!! Tears of joy, pain, anguish, determination…. the whole of the human emotional experience written all over each of their faces!!! The Amputee came in!!! Couples came in holding hands, they had done the race together (I LOVE that!)!!! Groups of friends came in!!! The costumed people came in!!!! Young and old alike!!! This was something special!! This meant something!!! This was POWERFUL!!!! The atmosphere was charged with electricity and smiles abounded everywhere … As did stiff legged athletes:   ‘What do you mean I have to climb those stairs???’  AHH MAAA ZIIING!!!!  What an INCREDIBLE Experience!!!! I get choked up just thinking about it!!!

For a looooong time during the race, I was pretty dang sure I would NEVER subject myself to THIS again…. It was BRUTAL…HARSH… it took every ounce of courage you had in you to ‘just keep moving forward’…I was sure this would be my last race…………

But on THIS side of the finish line…..

I’m pretty sure there will be another!