Tuesday, June 10, 2008
A race... inside the mind of an Ironman
Panic mode is beginning to set in. At this moment, exactly 12 days from now I hope to be sipping a celebratory beverage on the other side of the finishing tape at IM CDA. Ok, probably talking Gatorade. Come on, I've been racing for 12 hours! A beer would put me under the table! One Gatorade, two bottles of water and then beer. Anyway, that means that I have exactly 72 hours to get my bike ready and my gear bag packed so I can drop it off for Tribike Transport. I have 7 days to get the rest of my crap ready so that on Wednesday morning next week I can wake up early and catch my flight. And then begins the countdown. Race week: Thursday- Gatorade practice swim in Lake Coeur d'Alene, packet pick-up/ registration, check out the merchandise tent, pick up bike from Tribike Transport, go for short spin. Rest, eat, sleep. Friday- Gatorade practice swim in Lake CDA, breakfast with the Skirts (mmmm... pancakes!), short spin and run, rest, athlete welcome dinner and race debriefing. Rest, eat, sleep. Saturday- OMG! Panic! Drop off bike and gear bags. Maybe swim? Short run to loosen the legs. Eat, rest. Sleep? Sunday... the day has arrived. Wake up early. Really early. Eat breakfast. Oatmeal, bagel, juice. Drive to CDA. Fill water bottles on the bike and set up nutrition on the bike. Hopefully it's not raining. Put air in tires. Try to stay calm. Drop off special needs bags for bike and run. Ok, keep breathing. Get body marked. Loosen up a little- jog a bit, shake off the cobwebs. Keep sipping Gatorade. Pull the wetsuit on. Starting to freak out just a little bit. Listen to the music. Get pumped. Drop off morning/dry clothes bag. Kiss Dan. Hug Jess. Pull goggles on. Deep breath. Make my way down to the beach for the start. Listen to the National Anthem. Hear the sounds of the crowd, the announcer. Feel the goosebumps on my skin. Close my eyes. Deep breath. You can do this. Keep your mind in the moment. You are trained, you are prepared, you are ready for anything. This is the reward, what you've been working toward for 12 months. This is it. Listen for the gun. The mass of athletes moves toward the water in one swift motion. Arms flailing. Feet kicking. The water is cold. But you're not thinking about it now. You are focused on your turnover. Your breathing. Making sure to sight. You try to find a path of least resistance. Move to the outside of the pack, easier to maneuver around other swimmers. Soon, the first loop of the swim is done. You dash up onto the beach, over the timing mat, around the cone and back into the water for the second loop. Settle back into the pace. Focus on breathing. Focus on turnover. Try to pick up the pace just a bit. Begin to move the legs a little more. Try to get some blood flow back into them before the bike. You're out of the water. Racing up the beach you yank your wetsuit down around your waist. You pause and let the wetsuit peelers pull your suit off. You grab it, shout a quick thanks and dash up to the transition area. You race through the rows of gear bags, grabbing yours and head quickly toward the change tent. The volunteer dumps your bag out in front of you. You pull your bike jersey over your head. Dry you feet off a little and pull your shoes on. You snap your helmet into place and grab your sunglasses. You're gone. Out of the change tent, a volunteer hands you your bike. You run to the mount line and hop on. You give Trixie a few words of encouragement to get the ride off on the right foot. You settle into a pace. You begin to take in water. Lots of turns, hills. Nice scenery. Stay in the moment. How am I doing? Your watch beeps at you every 15 minutes to remind you of when to eat, when to drink, when to swallow salt capsules. You are prepared. You stay on schedule. You pass an aid station and toss your empty water bottles. You grab water and Gatorade from a volunteer. Thanks! you shout. You keep going. You keep eating and drinking and taking salt. You stay focused. For 112 miles you think about what you need to stay on track. You give yourself whatever you want. Sugar coated fruit slices in your special needs bag? Ok, I'll stop. Bathroom break? Seriously? NOW? Ok, fine, but make it quick. More water. More food. Am I taking in at least 150 calories an hour? Ok, good. Can I handle more? Yes, my heart rate is stable, I can take in a little extra. Boost the energy a bit. Or, no, heart rate is up. If I eat more, I'll bloat and no one wants to vomit out here. You have been through it all before. You know how to read what your body is telling you. 112 miles flies by. You re-enter transition, dismount, pass Trixie off to a volunteer. You grab your T2 bag and dash into the change tent for round two. You pull off your jersey, helmet, and shoes. You pull on your Skirt, your visor and running shoes. You grab your vial of salt capsules. Your first few steps are a little unsteady. Like a newborn horse learning to walk. You get your feet under you and soon you are pounding out the miles. You grab some water from an aid station. You swallow some vanilla PowerGel and chase it with another cup of water. You are on pace. You savor the crowd, the spectators, the cheers. You smile. You hear someone say, I think I want to do one of these someday... it looks like fun! You smile even more. You try to make it look easy. Look fun. You are enjoying yourself. You know you could walk the 26.2 miles and still finish before midnight. But you press on. You have a goal. You want to set a PR. You want to finish before dark. Mile 8, mile 15, mile 22. The miles fly by. Soon you are in the home stretch. You can hear the crowds cheering. You hear the announcer calling you home. You hear your name. You are in the finish chute. You see the cameras flashing. Capturing you last moments. You are an IRONMAN! the announcer says! You smile. Your arms in the air! At last, you have arrived! The volunteer catches you on the other side of the tape. Hands you a bottle of water and mylar blanket. Asks if there's anything you need. Food? Medical attention? Just water you say. You're thirsty. Someone places a medal around your neck. Your fingers trace the word Ironman. You are smiling. You look pretty good, the volunteer says. She congratulates you and hurries back to help another finisher. Someone who might not be feeling as good as you feel. Someone who might need her help. The whole day seems surreal. Like a dream. You can't stop smiling. You drink a little. Eat a little. Walk around a little. You gather your dry clothes and change. You head back to the finish line to watch the last few hours. At midnight you count down with the announcer and call the last finisher to the line. You are still smiling. You drive back to your hotel and fall into a deep sleep. You wake up, still smiling, wondering if you had dreamt it all. And then you get out of bed and your tired muscles remind you of everything you have accomplished. It's all worth it. The training, the sacrifice, the hours of effort, watching what you eat, making sure you get the right amount of sleep. It's all worth it in the end. To finish Ironman, to accomplish your goal... there is no better feeling. You smile.