Wednesday, October 17, 2007

I have a story to tell about the 2007 Kona, Hawaii Ironman World Championship, but Mary Lou isn’t home from Hawaii yet…no, she didn’t win her age group, or make top 3; but she is a champion! She was the fastest in her age group on the bike, but walked most of the marathon due to a prior knee injury. She completed the hardest race I know. If you missed watching Mary Lou and the other racers at you can still catch the highlights. Mary Lou is an Ironwoman and when she gets home next week I get to interview her! So, in the meantime….I think I’ll revisit my initiation story so you can get the flavor for hers. You can also get a quick overview at

If you haven’t read my first post, read it before you read on so this will make more sense!
Well, either I'm the biggest sheep, or he's the greatest brainwasher… Rob had already signed up for an Ironman in New Zealand. The catch, his challenge, it was to take place in March, 2005. Training in the winter for an Ironman was an incredible feat - a way that someone who had already completed 6.75 of them would challenge themselves. Why did I sign up? Love. Yes, let me say it again, Zero to Ironman, Love. Remember, I have finished 2 sprints. I DNF'd at two Olympic races due to flats! Now, starting Nov. 1, 2004, I was training for an Ironman. Ok, a few things: I'd always wanted to go to New Zealand, I thought that I'd spent plenty of 12-14 hr. days with my ex-husband climbing, especially in the winter ice climbing; in my mind, this was a cake walk! Now, remember, I'm not a runner (I should have thought of that!). We trained through December. I survived the holidays, (I still ate pate like a of my favorite foods). We rode spin bikes, adding 2.0 hour classes to the weekend schedule. Our club members loved it. We had to add on, riding the trainer or going outside if the roads were clear...making 5 hrs in the saddle. We rode our bikes to the Cape Elizabeth pool from Portland, dressed like penguins, we swam and rode back in snow storms. Snow gathered in my brake calipers, my hair froze under my hat that was under my gortex covered helmet. I ran for 3 hours. I ran from Portland to the Cape Elizabeth pool to be met by Rob. I made it in the allotted time. He kissed me as I got inside, snot frozen on my cheek. We traveled to California to train, remember, he is a pilot, free airfare. We traveled to Los Angeles, training in the hills, it was great. We did long rides; we thought they were long enough. We ran, I thought we ran more than enough. I was tired most of the time. I got pneumonia, 2x. But, all of a sudden, I was in the best shape of my life. My 2004 New Year's Resolution had come true; I had vowed to get in the best shape of my life, to do something big before I turned 40.

On the plane to New Zealand I had some Ambien, my doctor gave it to me after a friend told me how great it was. So, I gave one tablet to Rob and one to myself. A gentleman sitting behind Rob was sneezing on the back of his chair. We took it. I took mine with wine and Rob took his with water. Now, he’s a pilot, never did drugs, they get drug tested. He says, after 5 minutes, “Honey, I don’t think this is working, I think I need another one”. I say, “Wait a minute, it will work”. In minutes, he’s out. Two glasses of wine later and we’re just decending into New Zealand.

We had signed up for a TriTravel package. Our guide set up our in country travel and lodging, some training and other events. It's a great way to exeperience your first overseas Ironman and it allowed me to know some of the people around me! Our cargo van and bus of fellow triathletes met us at the airport, after 14 hours of flying we have 4 hours of driving to Lake Taupo, lead by our guide, Depak Patel, later named 2Pac by a van mate. We finally make it to our hotel/motel and it is right across the street from the lake. The day we arrive Rob’s nose is running, the guy who never gets sick, is sick. I buy zinc and all other drugs we can get to ward off the germs. The lake is white capping…that’s where I am supposed to do my Ironman swim!? The next day when we wake up it is still white capping, but we do a practice swim and our guide warns, people love to hit golf balls off the grassy shore into the water, and they’ll try to hit you while you’re swimming. The lake is crystal clear…we swim…I look down and there appear to be moth balls on the bottom, oh, wait, I’m at the golf ball spot, swim fast!

We meet our competitor friends, Gerald, from LA who works for Disney and his wife, Darshan, who’s not racing, but a great race companion, we meet a guy from New Jersey who was able to retire before 40 by developing sub-divisions, (he had built and sold 150 residential units), his wife travels with him, his best advice (and it will come back to haunt me) is this, “When you cross the finish line, smile for the camera so you have a good finish line photo to buy!” We meet a Kiwi, from Christ Church, who is in the military, he’s a lot of fun, as are many of the other people. One woman, who ends up winning her age group, and going to compete in Kona, is here with her boyfriend who has a mohawk and piercings – not an athlete – but a great support crew, he’s so proud of her! It’s a motley crew, but we have one thing in common, an Ironman competion on March 5th.

We train a bit together, get to know the town. The Kiwis are so nice, but they drive like New Yorkers! Wow, the crosswalk means nothing. We count the days and again, I feel like I’m in such great shape. We do runs and I'm rested, they feel like nothing. We get our race packets, our numbers, our swim caps, we go to the race venue every day. It’s starting to feel real. In our hotel room there is a hot tub in the back room, it’s a gift! We are in our taper so we don’t venture too far out onto the race course, we don’t rent a car, so we walk or ride our bikes to town. I have gotten the same cold Rob got…what to do, it doesn’t seem too bad after pneumonia!

Finally, the lake calms down, no white caps. Race day is in 48 hours. We get our bikes ready, numbers on our bikes and transition bags prepped. It’s a motel full of nervous energy. Every athlete has his/her bikes out daily for maintenance, we discuss food, calorie intake for the race, race strategy, etc. Basically, this is our way of passing nervous time. On this day I meet Cameron Brown at the race venue, the Kiwi who is slated to win. He’s had a couple of close wins at Hawaii, but a local champion and wow, look at him, he’s smaller than me! We participate in the pre-race celebrations, including The Parade of Nations. It's great, we're all here for the same event, from all over the globe.

The day before the race. I look to Rob for all guidance. He says, ‘Stay out of the sun and don’t do much.’ I’m in New Zealand, on Lake Taupo, and instead of sightseeing, I’m sitting in our small room watching bad movies. One of these is Happy Gilmore, and will haunt me tomorrow…as I try to find my ‘Happy Place’. The hot tub is set up to help us recover after the big day, temperature perfect. We cook dinner, chicken breast and green beans. Finally, it is time to go to bed, hours before the race. I am sick to my stomach, I sit in the bathroom and I wonder, ‘WHAT THE HELL WAS I THINKING?’ I am doing an Ironman in just few hours. AM I STUPID? I seriously realize that I am in over my head, I am crazy for trying to do this and I should drop out now, save myself the pain and disappointment. I have a panic attack in the bathroom and I tell Rob. He replies, “Honey, this is normal, you’ll be fine, don’t worry.” Always, the Rock of Gilbraltar.

We get up at 3:30 a.m. it’s dark, obviously! I don’t feel very good, I feel….scared! Our bus arrives and we all board to go to the race start. Nervous Energy, can you feel it? No one is talking on the bus, we are all inside our own heads, trying to wrap them around what is about to happen. Steam rises from the lake; the air temp is 40 degrees, colder than the water. The New Zealand indigenous people, the Maori, perform a warrior ritual for us, paddling in canoes, they chant across the calm (yes, calm) lake water, the sound pulses around us. I get goose bumps listening to them, for a moment I am removed from my own tension. T-1 is lit by big stadium lights. We check our bikes, put our water bottles in place, air in tires, the warrior chant becomes the background to the sun rise. The grass is wet and cold on my feet, I can see my breath. Every racer is here and we’re all doing the same thing, checking and rechecking our bikes, running shoes, nutrition, running to the port-a-potty. The loudspeaker calls us to the shore. Again, it’s pretty quiet, not a lot of talking, the darkness seems to make us whisper. I take a sip from my Hammer bottle, trying to get calories before the swim. The sun rises over the steam enveloped lake. We jump in to warm up.

Rob, always calm and in control, talks me into going to the front line of the mass swim start. Unlike some Ironman races, there are only 800+ racers, not the typical 2,000. I’m one of the only purple caps in the front, (females get purple), I’m surrounded by men. I’m not even a great swimmer, but I can be aggressive at the start and it's better for me to be in the front to get a good line. Here we are, the official race fanfare fades, the pros leave and we wait for the age groupers' start. Our horn blows and we’re off! I don’t know what happens, it’s nirvana; I feel like a seal in my wetsuit. I just follow the feet in front of me, I get a perfect line, surrounded by my ‘school’ of swimmers. I don’t even need to sight. I just swim. My heart pounds in my head, but I am oddly calm. We continue through the water, I see those golf balls on the bottom and know I’m almost at half way. I look up just to round the buoy and head to the finish of the first event. I get out of the water and to my surprise, I have swum 2.4 miles in 1:10 minutes, wow! I’m thrilled. This is going to be my day. I run to the bike, rather chilled, seeing my breath. I strip out of my wetsuit, grab my arm warmers, get my bike and head out. I see my heart rate at 180 on the first tiny hill out of town, too high, my AT is 190 and I was supposed to stay at 165-170 for the first lap. But I feel great and strong. I get out onto the course, feeling great. As I ride, a few of my Tritravel mates pass me saying hello and cheering me on. Farmers and other spectators are out on the course watching us, did I mention how nice the Kiwis are? G’Day mate! It’s a blast! I make the 1st first turn around…finally I have to go to the bathroom…we are supposed to go on the bike…right…not something I practiced…but I have to go….ugh. It takes forever, I could have gotten off the bike and gone faster. In fact, I’m pretty sure that the official race photo of me on the bike has captured me relieving myself at mile 30. My hands have been numb the entire first lap. It is starting to get warmer, but, as I go to eat my first hammer gel my numb fingers get the gel all over me while trying to open the packet. It gets on my gloves, and then my face as I wipe the sweat. I make it through the first lap in my goal time. Remember negative splitting? The second half faster than the first…well… On the second lap I feel everything; the rough road surface, I’m not kidding, it’s teeth chattering, the wind, seemingly a head wind in every direction, all seems to be sapping my energy. I’m starting to lose time. My second turn around split is much slower than my first. Am I really going 13 miles per hour up this little hill? Am I really having to get out of the saddle to get up this tiny climb? I finally, finally, make it to T-2. I almost need to be peeled off my bike.

Now, I haven’t told you that my biggest fear was losing control of my bowels on this race. Rob had told me about racers doing that…oh, God, not me! So, I had packed a wash cloth for T-2, which becomes a gift, because now as I sit down in the changing tent wiping my face with cool water on my wash cloth, I can’t imagine a nicer feeling, cool, wet cotton on my face… In fact, the race helpers are probably wondering if I am ever going to get up. Ok, so was I. I just don’t feel like moving. What I didn’t know at the time is that I was incredibly dehydrated. The temperatures had risen to 80 degrees, yes 40 degrees over the race start temperature. Did I mention it was March for a Mainer? Finally, I boost myself up and head to the portapotty…and then to the run course…. The Marathon. The temperature will rise another 10 degrees while I’m out there.

I head out on the run course, along the lake's edge, along the path I viewed each day from my motel room. As I head out, Cameron Brown heads to the finish line. Yes, the winner is going to finish while I have a marathon to run. I am actually relieved to be off the bike and on my feet… But, did I mention that I had gotten orthodics this year? That I have feet flatter than Kansas? That Rob had told me to run in racing flats as they’d be 'lighter and better', and that I had gotten a 2” blister on the part of my foot that should have been an I left my orthodics in the motel room and I wore those racing flats… Mile 10 and I experience a physical break down. Ok…by now I’ve run past my motel room once and will do so again 3x. Remember the billboard on Storrow Drive in Boston, Ma, ‘If you lived here you’d be home now’? That’s me and my hotel room. I pass Rob heading to the finish line, I tell him I don’t think I’m going to finish. I’m in so much pain that I don’t think I can walk, much less run. He, fatigued, but finishing, says, “You can do it honey, I’ll see you at the finish.” I run…as people run and even walk past me. I look so bad that a spectator yells out to me, in that New Zealand accent, ‘Find your Happy Place!’. Even in my pain, I have to smile. I focus on the run, I head down into a little neighborhood, shuffling by a guy cheering with a megaphone, “Go 1207”, (my number). He asks, in his megaphone, with his NZ accent, ‘Where ya’ from mate?’ “Maine”. I struggle to whisper. “Maine? Where’s Maine?” “USA!!!!!!” I gasp. I try, I try really hard to find that happy place. Then, I hear a voice behind me saying, ‘Is this the worst fucking run you’ve ever had?’. It’s Gerald! I am thinking of quitting and how slow I am, and here comes a guy who I know wanted a much faster time than what will come of this… I reply, “YES”! The spectator with the megaphone says to Gerald, who is walking next to me, “No walkin' on this road mate.” (I think I’m running, but he’s walking at my pace.) I laugh, but Gerald looks at him with annoyance. He has stomach problems and has lost his salt. I give him some and ask, hopefully, ‘are you going to drop out?’. I secretly wanted someone to drop out with me. “No, he replies, I’ll walk if I have to.”. Oh, ego, I tell myself, that’s what this is about – it’s not about how long it will take, or how fast I will be, it’s about being here right now, about finishing. An angel, named Gerald, has just come to save my experience. The Kiwis are cheering and partying around us, having a blast seemingly at our expense! But, without them, I’d be faltering. A red convertible passes Gerald and I, a dancing woman cheers and toasts us with champagne. Wow, that’s where I should be. Gerald picks up the pace and leaves me, leaving me with the strength to continue. I run to the end of the first lap. I can see it, no trees here, a torture, the turn around is miles away, literally and visually. (We later find out that the dancing woman in the car is Darshan, Gerald's wife who had been abducted by Kiwis to spectate and celebrate, and she said she felt so guilty while she was drinking champagne and driving by us as we suffered on our run!). I limp along and run past my friend again, with the megaphone, he remembers and calls out, ‘Go 1207, Maine, USA!’ with the same gasp! Ugh! Help! But, he makes me smile, again.

Finally, finally, 13 hours and 18 minutes after I started, I get to the finish shoot. The sun has set, the sky is black, the lights are shining brightly as I approach... They put up the finish tape, so I can feel like I am the first finisher. What are they thinking? I can’t break that tape, I don't have the strength! I’m so stressed about getting through the tape, then the finish and I remember, smile for the camera! My eyes, wild, look for the camera. Please! See my photo as a dying blonde cow crossing the finish line. That wonderful New Zealand, Kiwi, accent, yells over the loudspeaker, “1207, you are an Ironman.”

I fall into Rob’s arms. I get weighed, I can’t walk, seriously, I can’t walk. How did I run a marathon? Feeling sick to my stomach I fall to a chair. A blanket gets wrapped around me, my teeth are chattering. It’s dark outside, I wait for a massage, but all I want is to curl up and be left alone. I lie on the massage bed and a wonderful person rubs ice over my feet. I’m shivering, but my feet are burning, pain, awful pain. As this person rubs ice on my feet and massages my legs I finally realize, I’m alive and an Ironman. Ironwoman? But, I cannot walk, move, or eat…Rob, help!

We had made a pre-race promise to our friend, a Guinness at the pub after the race. I’ve been in the finish tent now for over an hour. I’ve had my massage I get some soup, I get my jacket, I'm ready for the room and the hot tub and I say, “I don’t think so, you guys go ahead, just walk me to the cab”. But the cab stand is just beyond the bar. So, twist my arm! We walk in and the big dudes, the rugby players, fans of The Blacks are ruling the bar... We walk through the door and get a standing ovation from the bar crowd. They are cheering, “Ironman, Ironman!” I get tears in my eyes and a big fellow walks up and says, “Can I buy ya a pint Ironmates?” Yes I almost sob! I’ll take a Guinness, vitamin G as they a say and I’ve made it I'm an Ironman, Woman!

P.S. if you didn't already figure this out...I'm not blonde, just an aspiring one....


liz said...

what an enthralling story! it was so vivid, i felt like i was there ~ and at the end i was cheering, in my head, "you're an IRONWOMAN"!!!!!
(but, seriously, you pee while ON THE BIKE!? i find myself a bit fixated on the logistics of that...)

kim said...

me too, I don't know if I could pee on my bike and then ride it again...Although, you could use the peeing as a strategy...You are going uphill, the wind is blowing - you get the idea :)