Monday 3 September 2012

I did it!!!!

I have heard stories, troubling stories, of athletes throwing up, passing out, and even dying during an Ironman. These stories run through my head as I listen to the seemingly endless sound of sirens.  It’s now dark, and the hot Kentucky sun has gone down, but the temperature has barely dropped. I have passed many people today who had succumbed to either the heat, the endurance requirements, or maybe the nasty brown Ohio River they unintentionally drank too much of.  I am 6 miles from the end of my 9-month journey, my first Iroman, and my first marathon run. I am shocked that my body feels so good, my energy is still high, and the adrenalin is still flowing. My only concern is the excruciating pain in my knee – like a knife penetrating the bone. I am now unable to run.  I can walk, but running reduces me to tears. So the last 6 miles will take a bit time and a lot patience.

Dealing with my pre-race nerves

My day leading up to this moment had been brilliant. I dragged my very supportive husband out of bed at 3:30am to eat and then walked down to the event. There I did a quick check of my bike and pumped my tires, put food in my support bags, and got my body marked. It was over a mile walk to the swim start and it was still very dark. Drew kept the mood light and my nerves in check. The swim start for the Louisville Ironman is a unique one. Athletes jump off a dock a few at a time, until all 3,000 are in the water. The line-up for our swim extended for over a mile, but my friend and fellow competitor, Janet Carey, saved me a spot at the front of the line. It was a long wait. Many people, not wanting to lose their spot in line, would just pee where they stood – the only clue in the darkness being a new wet spot on the sidewalk.

Jumping off the docks

As the Ironman wannabies jumped off the docks, it occurred to me that being at the front of the line may not have been my best strategy. I have only been swimming about a year and a half, and lake water swims are still somewhat scary for me. My pre-race thoughts turned to my history of racing, which did not give me any confidence. I have only ever done three triathlons and they were all last summer. Today was my first and only race for this season.  

The calm before the storm 

When I entered the water, there were maybe 50 people before me. Janet and I swam the first few 100 meters side by side. The water felt warm and my breathing stayed steady. It was fairly quiet, but more and more athletes were swimming up and passing me. My swimming has come a long way in a short period of time, but my speed is still slow – so many of the athletes who were lined up behind me, were catching-up and passing me. I found myself sandwiched between swimmer after swimmer, passing me, punching me, kicking me. I “sighted” to check where I was, and all I could see were thousands of flailing arms and legs. This may not have been a “mass start” race, but I was definitely in a mass of swimmers. My only concern was keeping my cool. A panic attack then would have been a disaster. 

Very happy that the swim is over

When the last buoy came into sight, I was surprised at how quickly the swim had gone. My fear of a DNF in the water was almost over, and I was elated. Once on dry land, I made my way down the shoot to the women’s tent. A volunteer retrieved my bike bag, and another helped me strip out of my swimsuit. More volunteers descended on me, until I had three helping me suit-up for my ride. The teamwork was amazing, and very welcomed in my post-swim fog.

Heading out on the bike

As I ran to my bike I could hear the voice of my coach, Al, in my head: “Carmen, remember you have to run a marathon after you ride…don’t go too fast, there is no room for error here”. Nutrition, hydration, and speed would be my focus for the next 6 to 7 hours. I reached into the back of my bulging jersey and dug around for something to eat. I pulled out a wrap that I had made the day before: almond butter and honey. I took a bite and struggled to swallow. It was dry and difficult to stomach. It had been 20 minutes since I had left the water, and I knew I had to start eating. I could not understand why something that I had enjoyed on training rides was now repulsing me.

Loving every minute
About thirty minutes later, I dug around in my jersey again. Avoiding the wraps, I grabbed a bag of boiled, mini-potatoes. I popped one into my month and blessed the person who recommended I try it. The flavor was wonderful. Every thirty minutes I rotated from gels to potatoes.  My body felt great, the scenery was spectacular, the hills were plentiful, and I was on a high. I just needed to pee, and badly. I am used to bio-breaks on the road, but the terrain had very few roadside trees and bushes. My thoughts were consumed with finding a place to relieve myself – I was so uncomfortable, and being in the aero position was not helping. I forced myself to drink, knowing that this would compound the problem, but I feared dehydration more than I did a spontaneously combusting bladder. I know some riders relieve themselves while riding, but that is not the tribe that I am from. All of a sudden I felt spay of “water” on my leg. It felt cool and rather nice. I looked at my water bottle, wondering if it was leaking… it wasn’t. I kept looking around, trying to find the source. And then I spot the rider ahead of me. “You have got to be kidding me!”, the voice in my head yells. HEY, YOU…I AM RIGHT BEHIND YOU, STOP PEEING ON ME.  I think I was more jealous than mad. 

With loop two over, I figured it was another hour before I began my run.  Excitement took over. I couldn’t wait to begin my first marathon. Round two in the woman’s tent: strip down, and fresh, dry clothes on for the run. I could have saved some time by running in my cycling gear, but I wanted to feel dry – even if it was only for a little bit. The first part of the run began with a huge hill up to the top of a bridge.  My calves tightened and burned with pain.  I slowed my pace to a walk, and then stopped and stretched. I knew it was going to take a bit of time before I got my running legs on.  I kept moving, speeding up as my legs gave up complaining.

It started at first with a twinge, and then with each step the feeling grew. My left knee felt funny. This was not good. I was only 13k into my run and I had to stop and walk. I knew this pain. I hadn’t felt it in a long time but I knew what it was and it couldn’t be stretched out. 42k minus 13k is 29k. I calculated how long it would take me to walk the rest of the race. This was not how I want to end my day. I remembered that I had packed four Advil in case of an emergency. I have never taken pain meds on a run, and I have heard that they can be dangerous. I struggled with what to do for a few minutes, and then popped one in my month. I needed to see if this would work.  After a few minutes I began to run. It worked! Miracles of miracles, the pain became background noise, which I was able to ignore.

Aid stations were every 2k, and Ironman had put out a pretty interesting spread. I walked through every station, using the time to take a little pressure off my knee, and fill my nutritional needs. I let my body tell me what it wanted. I drank chicken broth and water, ate orange slices, grapes, and bananas.

An hour after I took the first Advil, the background noise became a heavy metal rock concert, loud and annoying. I took another. The guy that I was running and chatting with begged me to share an Advil with him. “Please,” he said, ”I’m hurting”. I only had two left, but I just couldn’t say no. I would regret that decision at the 37k mark.

As the sun began to go down, I saw Janet for the first time since the start of the ride. We hugged and congratulated each other. We were not done, but we were happy that we were both still in the race and smiling. We parted again, me on the back-end the of the first loop, she on the front-end. The pain began again, and I took my last pill. My calculations told me that the pain would be back before my race was over.

With 10k left to go, the pain while running is awful. I have no more Advil. I can walk, but running is now out of the question. Frustration overtakes me. “It could be worse,” I keep telling myself, trying to keep my perspective on the situation. But I am disappointed. As I turn the last corner onto Mohammad Ali Boulevard, I can hear the roar of the crowds. One more turn and I will be looking at the finishers’ shoot. I desperately want to run up the shoot, you know, like a champion would. I try one more time to run, and almost collapse in pain. I turn the corner and see the bright lights. There are hundreds of people cheering. Completely overwhelmed, tears fill my eyes.

Soooo happy!!!!

I begin to run. I desperately do not want to walk up to the finish. And suddenly, I can’t feel my knee. I can’t feel anything but pure joy. Running, I high-five every hand that reaches out to me. It has been a long day, and the end to a very long journey. It all comes down to this moment. I feel like I am floating. The lights are getting brighter and brighter, and I can no longer see the finish line. I hear my name: “Carmen Wageman… you are an Ironman.” I cross over the finish. Almost immediately my knee buckles, but I don’t care… I am an Ironman. I did it. I did it. I did it.

I did it!!!!