In August 2014 I completed an Ironman Triathlon in Boulder, Colorado. That is 2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles cycling, and 26.2 miles of running. This accomplishment is a big deal to me. When I feel insecure, afraid, or weak, I remember that I did this and I feel reassured at my ability to deal. I wrote this a couple of days after the event. It still gives me goosebumps to think about finishing.
Awake at 2 AM on the big day, people I love filled my house. I felt a strange combination of confidence and a sense that I couldn’t do it. The swim start was surreal. This emotions reminded me of childbirth. I was standing on the shore of the Boulder Reservoir about to start an Ironman, my water broke and I was about to become a mother. Similar feelings. In the water, I swam slow and steady, daunted by the large number of buoys marking the course…I told myself “Just swim from one to the next, don’t worry about anything beyond that.” A crowd surrounded me, but I was alone in the water. Suddenly I was at the end. People stood on the shore with genuine smiles and congratulations.
Out of the wetsuit, into the changing tent. I had a moment of panic when I could not locate my underwear in my changing bag. A 112 mile bike ride going commando…Uh oh. But, after I finished dressing, I found them in my helmet. I had to pee so bad; I put my undies on in the port-o-john. The “real” cyclists of the world later informed me that you are SUPPOSED to go commando in cycling shorts, but, whatever…. Between bathroom and bike I saw Britt (my sister) and Jim (my love). I was so happy they were there, holding me up, pushing me forward with their love, pride and smiles. I felt a little embarrassed at how lonely my bike looked when I got to it; I was way in the back of the pack.
On the bike course, I just let the miles tick away, and I focused on a steady pace, but not pushing too hard, drinking water and electrolyte every six minutes. I knew that after the halfway point, the ride would get tough, both physically and mentally. The hellish, hot, windy, meltdown-inducing rides I had done out there informed my attitude of slight dread for what was coming, and I was so pleasantly surprised that there was not such horror out there that day. At mile 90 when I realized I was not actually riding face first into winds blowing straight from the gates of hell as I had experienced while training, I celebrated a bit. The turn up the hill to the Three Bitches (a series of three short but steep hills at mile 99) took me by surprise – I didn’t realize I was already there… and there were my loves, at the top of the hill. I had to stop for hugs and kisses from my daughters. Then I was going downhill!!! With only 11 miles left, I felt like I was just about done with the bike. That was the longest 45 minutes of the whole ride. It felt tedious and hard, and never-ending. When I got to transition, I started to feel fear.
Gulp. A marathon. I had never run that far before. What business did I think I had out here trying to run a MARATHON today, after all that I had already done with my body for the past few hours? Who was I kidding? Who did I think I was? The crowd was overwhelming and beautiful and happy as I came out to the trail. It was again surreal. On one hand, I felt annoyed at their cheer – how could they be so happy when I had 26 miles of suffering ahead of me? On the other hand, they kept those dark voices somewhat at bay. I “faked it” for three miles, with no strategy or idea about how to get through this. I wasn’t in a groove. After the third mile, I realized that I was going to have to stop thinking about the big distance and get very “in the moment” with this thing. I chose to focus on now. I would run between aid stations (there was one every mile) and walk through them. If running felt too hard, it simply meant I needed to run a little slower. No more counting the miles. I focused on the walk/run pattern, and settled in to enjoy this place I love with all of my heart, my home.
After that, the time and the distance went by pretty quickly. I had some rumblings of stomach upset, but nothing serious. At mile 20 I realized I was now running beyond any distance I had done before. Fatigue set in. Time to dig deep. And I kept it up. I’d resign to walk longer durations to help with the fatigue, but after a couple of minutes of walking my impatience reared up and I started running again, just to get it the fuck OVER. By mile 23 I was unable to interact with the external world at all. I was focusing entirely within. I saw Jim on the path, and while it was a real boost, I could barely acknowledge him.
As I turned the final corner and saw the first arch entering the finishing stretch, the tears came. I sobbed and ran. I cry now as I remember those last couple of minutes. My beautiful daughters were there, pride in their mom showing on their faces as they saw me coming. This finish was another form of proof of my strength, and proof that I have “fixed” my life. I threw off the chains of alcoholism and self-destruction and cultivated my vitality to the point of doing this life affirming thing. After 14 hours and 24 minutes of celebrating my heart, spirit, and body, I crossed the Ironman Finish Line.