Sunday, November 29, 2015

Ironman Florida Part 3: time to do all the stuff!

November 7th came and went faster than I ever thought it would.

I woke up feeling pretty calm, and just wanting to get to the start line. I had packed, re-packed, checked, triple checked, quadruple checked all of my gear bags. I counted salt and potassium tablets repeatedly, triple guessed my number of Gu's and bonk breakers in each bag, and pondered the life out of where else I could shove another little bottle of sunscreen or bag of m&ms. The countless second guessing of my packing skills were what was really sucking the life out of me. As soon as I left for the start, at least I knew I had packed what I had packed, and whatever I had forgotten I would have to just figure it out on the course.
Ready to go, just waitin' on the rest of the house!

Emily and I rode together in her car to the Walmart parking lot where we were going to pick up the shuttle to get to the start, and my parents followed behind us in their rental car. We had the most perfect timing- there was a tiny line to get onto the bus, and all four of us were able to get on in one fell swoop with no waiting! When we were pulling out of the parking lot though, there was quite a line. We couldn't have timed it better if we had tried.

My mom and I walking towards transition. Both still smiling, but I think she might have been a little more nervous than me. <3

Athletes only were allowed into transition, so I bid farewell to my mom and dad and told them I'd see them in a few hours. I got my bike and run special needs bags dropped off, my tires pumped up, my water bottles and fuel packed, and I was as ready to go as I'd ever be!

My Texas peeps and I had agreed to meet at the pool before the race start so we could take a final team pic and barf nervously all together. I met up with Jimmy and Diane, but the whole group meet up kind of fell apart. We weren't allowed to bring phones on the course, so our phones had to be checked with our morning bag. Unfortunately I lost track of Emily somewhere between the pool and the bathroom so I didn't get to wish her a final good luck.

After 17 more trips to the porta potty, Jimmy, Diane and I made our way to the beach. The energy was absolutely electrifying! The music was blasting, people were stretching out and chit chatting, and any remaining nerves I had were quickly replaced with sheer excitement!

One more picture with D before we separated!

The swim turned out to be non-wetsuit legal. The water temp was about .3 degrees above the cut off. You were allowed to wear a wetsuit if you so chose, you just would not be eligible for any age group awards, or qualifying for Kona. I was really trying to place in my age group for the swim; first out of the water in each age group got stuff from Roka, and you know me and stuff- I want all the stuff. We found Mike and Aydee on the beach, and I got so caught up in talking with them that I didn't even realize that I should have already been up in the corral with my presumed swim time group. I thought- no sweat! I'll just make my way up there! Or not. It. Was. Packed. The back of the corral had estimated their time to be 2:00+. I needed to try and make my way up to the 1:10 gang. I met a dude who was also trying to work his way up to that group, so I channeled my inner punk show crowd navigating mosh pit skills and was like, "come on, bro! We got this!" We made it to maaaybe 1:45 before we admitted defeat, and waited with all the other anxious swimmers. 

The gun went off, and the crowd slowly started moving towards the water. I couldn't see anything except all the tall people in front of me, so it wasn't until a few minutes later when I finally got to the opening of the corral and saw the water, and all the swimmers already making their way out, for the first time...
One of the earlier groups of taped up, skinned up swimmers making their way out...

...and this was the sight I was greeted with!

I could hear choruses of "oh shit" and "here we go..." I, on the other hand, was giggling like an idiot. It looked like pure chaos; people swimming on top of each other, waves breaking on people, people swimming all sorts of off course because it was hard to sight. I. Was. So. Psyched. I grew up spending almost every weekend from the time I was 8 until the time I was 22 at swim meets, warming up in crowded ass lanes, learning at an early age that, sometimes if you need to get your swim on, you've gotta swim on top of people. I also learned that people are going to kick you and punch you in your face, and all over your body- but that's ok, because you're going to do that to people as well. It comes with the territory. Pair those childhood survival skills I adopted with 11 summers of lifeguarding on Cape Cod, doing buoy sprints and sighting with surf and chop- this shit was my jam, and I felt so at home! The bummer was that, since I did start farther back than I needed to, I wound up having to swim over quite a few people. I try my best not to kick people in tris; perhaps they did not grow up with the same aggressive pool experiences as I did. A lot of people get really scared, especially swimming in open water, so I always try to be as respectful as I can. If I'm able to, I try to stop pretty regularly for a quick moment so that I can reassess my direction so as to give someone else their space. However, when I got kicked in the head so hard my ear rang for about 100 yards, I got a little pissed and may or may not have swam directly over him. Sorry, dude.

The swim course was a double looper. About 800 yards straight out, 100 yards across, and 800 yards back in. Then maybe a 25 yard sand jog to the start, and do it all over again. 

The first lap I was trying to politely fight my way into my own space, so my time wasn't as quick as I had wanted it to be, even though I still wound up negative splitting. I was on my way back in towards shore when I swam past someone pulling a dinghy. They were accompanied by a lifeguard on a rescue board, so I stopped and said to the guard, "is this like a Team Hoyt thing?" He nodded, and said, "sure is!" If you're not familiar with Team Hoyt, I urge you to check them out. I know that I say I do races for the stuff, but that's not entirely. I do races like these because the other athletes that participate them inspire me to keep going, and to be a better person. More about that later.

There was a really long sand bar that was about 15 yards off shore, so we had two sets of break to manage getting in through and out of. On the way in from my first loop, the waves were pretty big, and as I sighted I could see people going over the falls; trying to stand up and just getting knocked over. I looked over my shoulder and saw this beautiful wave and thought to myself, "I'm gonna see if I can ride this bitch into shore." I paddled harder and harder and felt it starting to lift me up. I dug in...and totally caught it! I rode that beast into the sand bar and, by the grace of God, got my footing perfectly timed, and stood up straight as soon as I got to the bar, arms over my head, triumphant- like a gymnast who just totally nailed the landing! I think I even let out an "OOH!!" But as I looked around, I realized no one saw it. And if they did, they sure didn't care. 

Second loop was uneventful. I had come into my own space, which was nice. I got into a nice rhythm, and just let the waves carry me up and down. I LOVE ocean swimming so much more than pool swimming. While the techniques you learn in practices can help you, the vitality of the ocean really forces you to just feel it out, and let it carry you. Don't try and swim against the wave and try to beat it- it's going to win. Just relax and go with it! (I know, I know...easier said than done.)
Jimmy was volunteering as a wet suit stripper and he caught this pic of me coming out of the water at the end of the 2.4. All smiles!

From the swim, it was a short jog to transition to grab my bike gear bag outside of transition and head to the changing area. While I was not the first out of the water for my age group, when I got into the changing area there were far more volunteers than athletes. I had two volunteers to myself! I felt like royalty. They helped me with sunscreen, and compression socks (which, if you've never tried to put them on when your legs are still wet, can be a real bitch), and even got me a water and a gatorade! I lived it up while I could, because whatever lead I get from the swim I lose instantly once I get on the bike.

I got my things that I needed for my pockets, thanked the ladies, and headed out to my bike. I saw my sweet friends, Kristin and Caroline, waiting for me at the transition area. I waved to them furiously, I think blew them some kisses, and then grabbed my bike and went for it. 

The bike itself was pretty uneventful. I tried to eat at a relatively steady rate (but being careful not to consume anything other than water after about mile 95 or so). It was a really hot day, so I was pretty worried about dehydrating. I pushed the water pretty hard. It's not good if you're doing a long race and you never have to pee- so my goal was to drink til I had to pee. It worked great! I even made a couple of new SBS friends on the course who let me tag along with them for about 20-30 miles or so. They were much faster than me, though, so I dropped back from them shortly after the halfway point. 

While I was biking..
My dear friend, Kristin, relaxing cheering her ass off with sweet Jacy girl

You're welcome, friends, for giving you a reason to visit the PCB

Yup, you pups are welcome, too <3

A little off centered, but there I am!

There were TONS of volunteers just waiting at transition to take your bike from you, so you literally just handed it off to someone and then ran to get your run gear bag. As predicted, I did not get the royal treatment this time around in the changing area. But the volunteers were still super nice! I donned my best Texas sweaty band, changed into a cuter outfit and compression socks (fact), had the grand opportunity to brush my hair and wash my face(!!!!), and I was off!

I was worried about my hip being a jerk, so I was slow jogging and setting my watch up for intervals (one of the things I had not properly prepared beforehand). I hit start on the Garmin and the interval watch as I crossed the timing pad, and started the run. The first half mile or so was packed with people cheering, so you really couldn't walk if you wanted to. Because they'd yell at you. And call you lazy. (Just kidding about that last part.)

About 5 minutes into the run I thought to myself, well hot damn! My hip doesn't hurt at all! I got to revel in that glory for about .235 seconds before, all of a sudden, I got this pain in my knee that hurt (and surprised me!) so bad that I almost fell over. I slowed down a bit and tried to focus on my stride, but no dice. The ol' lumbago was not having it. I had hoped to do 5:1s (run for 5, with my new, improved and exhausting higher knee'd gait and walk for 1), but my knee would only give me about 45 seconds of running before I had to walk it off. I was so bummed out, but tried to be thankful that I had at least made it this far with no pain, and my hip was feeling awesome. 

So. Fine. I have to drop down to 1:1 for a while. So be it. I got 26 miles to recoup. I tried to stay positive. My knee, however, remained being a little bitch...and soon thereafter, so did my stomach. I won't get into details about that. However, in lieu of staying positive, I look at is as being able to take a very scenic tour of every. single. porta potty on the race course. Some of them were just so nice (and, dare I say, breathtaking?) I felt the need to visit them twice.

A little blurry because my dad was so excited, but this was the first time I got to see Donnie (and my sweet mother in law, who came down to surprise me!!!)! Had any fluids been able to flow up to my face, I would have cried. What champs!

The run continued slowly into the night. The sun went down early thanks to stupid daylight savings time. Thanks to my impressive amounts of stops required (28 to be exact), and my slow as isht 1:1s, I wound up with my slowest marathon of all time. 
Marathon walking for the win!

But a weird thing happened- despite my, literally, crippling knee pain, and my ass that just wouldn't quit, I found myself having one of the funnest marathons I've ever done! Maybe it's because I'd long since kissed the idea of a decent marry time or sub 14 goodbye, or maybe the reality of what I was actually doing had set in. No matter what the reason, I had a blast! I wound up run/walking with some really fantastic people,some made me go on without them and thanked me for the pick-me-up, others I had to leave for another bathroom stop. I've always been a back of the packer in races, and my favorite part of that is just getting to talk to some really amazing strangers. Most of the people I encountered that night were on their at least 5th Ironman. We talked about good races, fun races, and bad races- such as the one we were in. Because, by about 8:30 pm, if you're barely past the halfway point, you're probably not having a good race. No matter who I ran with though, whether I found them, or they found me, I found that we all, at some point, repeated the same thing- "we're going to finish."

And I did. I don't have a finish line photo. I'm too cheap to buy the ones Ironman takes for you. Donnie took a video of me as I ran down the finishers chute, because I'd asked him to. I'm glad he took one, because all I really remember is giggling the whole way down the red carpet and worrying that I was going to be squinting in my finisher photo because the lights were so bright. People are right though- it really is difficult to process everything going on. Between thinking about what you've just done, on marathon brain (which is probably able to function on about 1/8th of normal functioning level), the people cheering, the blinding lights, and the announcer calling your name as you make your final charge towards the finish line, "Becky O'Neil, from Houston, Texas, YOU are and Ironman!" it's just so surreal. 

This guy- driving 10+ hours to stand out and wait for me in the rain <3

My rocks- emotionally and all sortsa supporting me since 2012/2013

This was an incredibly long recap, so if you're still reading this, hats off to you! Sometimes I tell people the abridged version of what I just shared with you, and they think I'm crazy for attempting it. Others say they're inspired- which to ME is crazy, because I'M the one who's inspired by all the amazing athletes out there on the course! Meeting people of all ages and abilities in all sorts of different walks of life is why I really do races. While I'd love to be at the front of the pack one day, the ones of us that bring up the rear- those are the people that really have spirit and determination. If you ever get a chance to check out an Ironman, go to the finish line when there's a half an hour left on the clock. It's the most inspiring half hour of sports you'll ever see. 

I will say that this race was the most fun, most difficult, most painful, and most sobering race I've ever had the privilege of doing. I found myself smiling the entire way. (With the exception of somewhere along mile 22 where I suddenly had to stop walking with someone I had picked up along the route because I needed to cuss loudly and say "FUCK, dude! This is hard!" Sometimes you just gotta let it out.) What had always seemed to be an impossible feat and way too much to take on at once, became believable. Donnie, in the days and weeks leading up, would say to me, "you know you can swim that far, you know you can bike that far, you know you can run a marathon- now you just gotta smush them all together." For weeks, I was an emotional wreck. (No, Donnie, YOU smush them together! And why is the damn fridge empty?!) But his words stayed with me all day. I took it one part at a time. I knew I could swim. So I did. I'd hoped I could get the bike done in the time allotted. Someone was lookin out for me, and I did. I knew that I could at least walk a marathon, which I pretty much proved that night. And somehow, not without the unending support from my loved ones (I can't even put it into words how much of this was because of them), smushing all of those things together brought me to the finish line in 15 hours and 51 minutes.
At this point in the night, I considered this to be stretching.

Do I feel like an Ironman? I don't think so, because I'm not sure what that's supposed to feel like. I do, however, feel infinitely lucky to have a body that was able to withstand the training, as well as 16 hours of exertion, finishing up with a completely empty gas tank, and walking away uninjured. I witnessed people who just set out to finish, crush the course that day. I also witnessed people who expected PR's and wound up walking with me quite a bit at the end. And even worse, I witnessed people who, due to circumstances out of their control, didn't get a chance to finish in the allotted time. That, for me, was the most painful part of the whole day. It still sucks.

I will definitely do another Ironman- probably Texas. That seems like the right thing to do. But it won't be for a while. And by "a while," I mean a year or two. Maybe 2017? 18? Who knows. While I'm not sure when exactly I'll toe that starting line again, I can guarantee that if I can drive there, I'll be there cheering. With my cowbell, my bubble gun, my obnoxious signs, and beer. Because that's how most triathlons should be done.

But for now...

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