A year ago, give or take a month or two, I turned to my amazing friend MM and said, “Do you still want to do an Ironman? I’m in.” So off we went last September, signed up and officially changed our lives for a year. For me, the catalyst was a sincere desire to finish something. After a tumultuous year previous, I knew I wanted to focus my time and energy on something for which I would have most of the control determining success or failure (bike flats, water temperatures, course topography, and humidity notwithstanding). I had no idea what I was in for, but I can happily say, a year and a quarter later that this Ironman “thing” was the best decision I’ve ever made thus far.
So now onto the nitty-gritty.
I arrived in IL to Maggie’s on Wednesday and we went up to Madison on Thursday arriving to Ironman buzz all about. We were like to little girls going to first grade, nervous, excited, and on the brink of tears at any moment. We got all checked in and took a nice easy run to warm up. The next few days consisted of packing and repacking our five bags, having a great warm-up swim, getting Blue back, visiting the amazing Madison Farmer’s Market, and greeting our entourage.
I went into this race weekend with the hopes of finishing. I really thought that 16:30 would be a realistic goal for me. I knew that I wanted to get out of the water in 1:30, off the bike by 5:15pm and take about 5:30 to finish the marathon. I don’t do math well at all, but I figured give or take transitions and traumas that 16:30 sounded realistic.
Then the big day arrived. We set six alarms, just to be safe. I woke up feeling excited and nervous but at the same time focused…almost calm. It was just a methodical practice. “Check the bags, pack the wetsuit, do the pig tails, put on the sunscreen” etc. It was just a matter of getting each piece of the puzzle put together. We left for downtown and after some nice iron-angels gave us $2 to park (that was so not in my special needs bag), we headed to get everything ready. When I got to Blue, I kissed her and told her I was sorry she had to be out in the cold all night, she seemed ok to me.
SuperSherpa CJT found me in the Terrace and my family arrived shortly after. The wetsuits went on and we went off to go down the Helix to the water. The air was electric. The fans were plentiful and the M&S crew were in their neon best. Not too hard to spot neon yellow shirts with our cheesehead sportin’ heads on it!
So onto it….
I got in, ducked my head under, and positioned almost in line with the red start buoy but back far enough so that I could get in at least a few strokes before entering the human blender. This proved a wise decision as I didn’t have to do a lot of unnecessary swimming to get in the “line”. The human wake was fast and furious and my little white cap (girl) found itself in a sea of red caps (boys). But alas, I just kept pulling along usually getting 6-9 strokes in between bashes of the head, hands, feet, booty, and the like. I felt pretty good and got into an ok rhythm. I had to fight off “ear plug whale shaped man” who seemed to be everywhere I was on the second half of the first loop. Finally I got peeved enough just to swim hard around him to get peace. I made it round the first loop in 38min. I was ok with this considering there were 2400+ other people in the water with me. The second loop was definitely more flexible, less bodies and less aggression. Just into smooth flow. As I neared the last few orange buoys (the second half of the loop) the second time I did a time check and saw 1:08. I thought, “damn, I could make my dream day goal”. I channeled many a months in the lanes with “my boys” and kicked like a badass to get to the finish. I made the last turn and it was game on. I pulled up and out of the water just as the clock turned to 1:20. WooHoo my dream day goal!
Wetsuit stripping was a hoot. I found a “hot guy” and said “hot guy, strip me.” They laughed and the girl said, “ass in the air, point your toes” and whoosh, it was off. I could have been faster but I didn’t want to jog up the helix. Seriously?! Who puts an uphill around in circles run in between swimming and transition, holy balance batman. It was in T1 that I realized, “maybe I should have used body glide on my neck?!” as my assistant sprayed sunscreen all over the ripped up skin…ouch!
Anyone who is reading this blog probably knows me well enough to know that Blue (my bike) and I have a love-hate relationship. I love her, she is beautiful, but man she pisses me off. I knew going into Ironman that the bike would be my Achilles heel. My goal for the day, get around the first loop before 1:30 (the cutoff) and again at 5:30 (the other cutoff). I figured if I could be done the swim early enough I could have a good cushion to have extra time on the bike.
Little did I know that adrenaline would kick my butt and have me speeding up the helix (with a quick hello to friends from MD) and racing off at a “blazing” (for me that is) speed. The miles just seemed to click away and before I knew it, I was in Mt. Horeb at the top of the first really hard climb of the day. Who knew?!’ The Superfans were everywhere. It seemed like it was only just a few miles between spurts of neon. And the regular fans lining the climbs, they were salvation. Just as I was cresting one of the worst hills, the time clock car for the leaders approached and the leading men quickly followed. The fans and I had a chuckle at the “commotion and crowds, just for me” I couldn’t believe I made it to the second loop at 12:30. Really? An hour ahead of schedule, woohoo! So off to special needs I went where I ditched old sandwiches, got new ones, got my coke (yea!) and a bag of carrots and 4 blessed advil. Then, off again. I loved going through special needs just to have a few moments of human interaction.
I struggled in the early parts of the second loop. I really didn’t want to eat, never wanted to taste HEED again in my life, and was a little hot. But alas, I just kept pedaling even when I was in my granny and it was fairly flat…I knew if I just kept moving that would be good. Never once, NOT ONCE, did I feel like quitting. I knew that I had 265 children to answer to on Tuesday morning, plus my beloved friends and family. But more than that, the thought simply didn’t enter my head. I forced fed a gel or two, a few carrots, and finally just started mainlining water (no more heed, ew) which really helped my spirits. Around mile 80, I thought of my “kids” at school. I wanted to make them proud. And when I had 37 miles to go I just channeled the words of a wise man who said, “it’s just Columbia and a spin around your neighborhood.” That kept me going for the last 36 miles until we reached town again.
I spent a lot of time in conversation with God on the bike. I tried to maintain a constant spirit of thankfulness in this race. (but more on that later….)
I came through the last bit of the bike, sat back on the “no pass zone” and then hammered all the way back to the terrace practically giddy. When I heard beloved JE’s voice yell “Sarah” at the bottom of the Helix, I almost lost it. I was coming in at 7 hours and 42 minutes….a far cry from the expected 8-8:30…I kept saying, “no crying on the helix!!!” I plunged down the ramp past my amazing family and friends and hopped (ok, lumbered) off Blue. I told her I loved her but I don’t want to see her for a few days and then shuffled (ok, danced) into T2.
The women’s assistants in the T2 changing room were amazing. My gal helped me with everything including my princess barrettes. What a great gal. It was her that kept me under 10 minutes in T2 (including a short “stop” and my sunscreen massage)
Ok, so I admit that when it comes to running in triathlon world, I’m a cocky B. I am a runner (or at least I used to be) so sometimes, I look at the run part with a bit of a scoff. But at IM, I was just so damn happy to be off my bike, I think it fueled me. Kisses to the Superfans along the shoot and then off for a “short jog” as I said to the regular fans. The 4:1 was perfect. I never felt tremendously uncomfortable and just kept moving forward. I ate a little gu, but never felt super hungry or mentally fuzzy. I felt really focused. Then I looked at my watch and started to do math. Really? What kind of person thinks they can do math 115-120 miles into a race? Yowza. But once I realized that I could just count from 7am, I was good. (duh). Then I got excited, really? Am I only at 13 hours right now?
The run was amazing. The miles kept ticking away and it felt, almost, effortless. I became a slave to my Timex and its 4:1 beeps. I fell in love with ice chips which gave me something to do. I came into special needs and it was still daylight! I met my “special needs date” and he helped me take exchange my hammers and get my reece’s pumpkin cup and my mini-coke. And…my princess tiara. I really wanted a glow in the dark tiara for the run and two days before the race we found a silver and pink tiara with glitter “princess” written on it. It was awesome. For the last 13.1 miles, I had a tiara on my head. I was called Queen, Princess, and crazy….but it made me happy and kept the fans shouting, so it was good. It got pretty dark on the back half of the course through the paths and it was eerily quiet but amazing. I could not believe how good I felt. Seriously? It isn’t supposed to feel this good right?
One more trip through inspiration point where my pink and brown sign cheered me on. And then it was back to town. I knew that I would be getting close, so at 24, I ditched every hammer and electrolyte tab that I had stuck in my bra, got rid of my glow sticks, and started to pick up the pace. At 25, I turned off the 4:1 alarm and kicked. I stopped at the last water stop to get a sponge to prepare for my “paparazzi” and turned it up. I saw KD before the turn, JE at the turn, MM’s family behind the SUV, and just as I heard “the guy” start to say the magical words…I saw my family and CL. I thought I might just about lose it. Hugs Kisses and a few more steps before with hands up and up and a “F*@& yeah….” I crossed the line. 14:42:19…a mere 1 hour and 48 minutes faster than I anticipated. The feeling was ridiculous.
The entire day was a great big thank you note to God. I spent a lot of the day channeling the words of wisdom from my loved ones. “You are a game day player” “You are the bike” “Quitting is not an option” “You have done the work now get the glory” I spent a lot of time thinking about my students and knowing I had to come back to them a finisher. I thought about the last year and love and loss and family and joy and pain. This year was cathartic. It allowed me to believe that I can be strong again. It allowed me to build a community which I had been longing for. It it proved to me that if I put my full trust in God that I can do anything. So He got most of my time on Sunday. Lots and lots of thank you’s. (and one small apology for the GD when I hit a bump that hurt…)
I truly believe that if I can do an Ironman anyone can. And now that I’m an Ironman I believe that anything is possible.
SO proud of you! What a great accomplishment!
Sarah…great story, and what an inspiration. Thank you for sharing it. now for those of us who really aren’t familiar with the lingo, can you give us an update with the jargon…T1, HEED, etc. Congratulations to you again. Mike
You are the IRONMAN PRINCESS!! I am in awe!!
You are so amazingly inspirational! Thank you for sharing…