Thursday, May 24, 2012

A year ago... Ironman St George - May 7th 2011

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(Update on my angel in the blue shirt to follow this post...)

Up earlier than I wanted to be by the rustling around in the kitchen… 3:30 came about 45 minutes earlier than expected. Up, dressed, eating. Teeth brushed. Ready. In the car. On the shuttle (bus) – for the 25 minute ride to the start of the race. Pitch black. The bus driver hilarious. Energy abounded. People either chattering too much or too silent … and either way, adrenaline poured from us.

Arriving at the start, entrance only granted with the blue bracelet that would mark me as an “athlete”… 

To the bike. To my bike gear bag to check once more that everything I need is there. Added salt to the bag. Went back to the bike, pumped tires. Port-a-potty… bike. Checked brakes. Walked around… talked to those in the group. Took pictures. Back to bike. Everything is still there. Fluids good. Brakes still work. Ok.

Wetsuit. Cap. Goggles. 

Where are my parents?

Wetsuit. 

John took over. He guides me to a spot on carpet where we sit for a little while. Checking my phone, where’s my family? Where’s Dan? 

John: “Put your wetsuit on.” Oh… right. Ok. Wetsuit on. Not easy. So tight. Phone rings. My mom and dad and the entourage are there. Finally. I give my bag to the guy. The last time I’ll see it till this day is over. Grab my pump, cap, goggles, and phone and go to find my family. 

They look at me like I’m crazy. I feel a little crazy. Pictures, laughter. Ready. 

The pro’s are gone. I have to get in the water. We aren’t moving fast enough. I have to pee. I can’t wait. I pee in my wetsuit. Ha. 

The gun goes off. I still can’t see the water. I run in. I try to swim. I can’t breathe. 200 yards out I stop. I can’t put my face in anymore. I need a minute. How can I do this for 2.4 miles? 

I hold the board with the beautiful girl paddling along. She tells me she won’t let me drown. That I’ve already started. I’ve already gone so far… keep going. So I do. God bless that girl. Finally, breathing every stroke, I get rhythm. And then, I find it every third stroke. I am passing people. Catching up with myself. Ok. I will be ok. 

In the water I can hear people talking and it bugs me. Where is that coming from? Who can talk and swim? Then I realize it’s the announcer calling people’s names as they exit the water. Oh, I’m so close. This beautiful swim has almost come to an end. 

Out of the water, up the boat ramp. Feeling great. Reminds me of the California half. Wetsuit stuck. Two people run to me and literally tear it off. “Lay down!” Ok… and bam… I felt naked. 

“RUN!!!” I hear the announcer call my name. I can’t believe I’m doing this. To the bike bags, to the dressing room. I sit. A lovely woman takes all of my gear out of the bag and starts putting my socks on. She talks to me… “Arm warmers?” Oh god, no. “Is this your first Ironman?” Yes. “Wow, you are so amazing!” My typical response: well, the day’s not over yet! She was great. Socks, shoes, gloves, sunglasses, helmet… out of the tent to sunscreen. 

She missed my face. “Can you get my face???” I’m sure I had snot coming out of my nose. Woops… sorry, lady! I thanked her. 

Ran down the carpet where another amazing volunteer was holding my bike. Up and over. Moving.

My family waited in the “bike out” chute. Screaming and shouting “GO… Steph… GO!!!”

The first 20 miles of the bike were slow and slightly hilly. Immediately, a headwind. I passed my first aid station. Took it in. I understand. Grabbed water, drank as much as I could. Tossed. 

30-35 miles in… to a place I recognized. The field in front of the Morris’ house to my right. Looking for my family. I don’t see them. They weren’t able to get out of the T1 area fast enough. People are screaming my name. There they are, the Morris family, with a sign made especially for me.  What a treat. I glow from the inside out. Yell and wave at them. 

It gets hot. And hillier. I try to take as much as I can at the aid station. I begin to suffer. Around the big red mountain we go. Hotter, still. Up, up, up. I begin to know the cyclists around me. We talk about the heat. The hills. Someone explains the next four hills to me. It helps. I have something to count. My stomach is upset. 

I prepare my head. Better. Ok. 

“The Wall” – reminds me of GMR. But shorter. A long switchback. Ok. I got this. 

My head was wrong. I thought downhill followed the wall. No. Another climb, straight into the wind. Ack. I’m losing time. Losing my head. I need a bathroom. Diarrhea. I want to barf. I would feel better if I barfed. 

Finally, the downhill I craved. Headwind, but downhill. Thank the lord.  Loop 2 followed the downhill. Finally, an aid station. Port-a-potty. Family waiting. I tried to smile. I wanted to throw up. I laughed at them, their sign, the bells, and whistles and screaming. It couldn’t help but bring me joy. 

Loop two: Suffering. Water. More water. The kids want to spray me. Most cyclists are too cool or too serious or too stupid to accept. I do. So fun. The four of us giggle while I cool off. Gatorade. I try to muster the power bar down my throat. I can’t. I barf. Relief. 

The “four hills” again. I prepare my head. Even with all the gas I have, I may not make it. I prepare myself for the conversations where I explain why I didn’t make it. I accept it. 

“The wall” again followed by the climb out of Veyo. I cry. I want off the bike. I’m not tracking miles as progress, just trying to make them fast enough to be able to run. But… I don’t want to run. 

Maybe I won’t make it. Oh please. Let me miss the cut-off. 

Oh please. Let me make the cut-off. I wrestle. 

I make the cutoff. The girl laughs at me as she takes my bike. Someone is yelling at me “two minutes!” hu? I run. “Get in the tent!”…  I’m there. I sit. 

Five beautiful blonde haired blue eyed innocent 14 year olds help me. They put sunscreen on me. Vaseline on my lips. Shoes. “Arm warmers?” Oh God, no. I start to leave. 

“Wait! Was there a visor in that bag???” No. No visor. “Oh, I thought for sure I packed a visor.” Then she looks… my good luck charm, under the chair. “Is this it?” 

YES!!! Thank you! Visor on. Watch ready. I cross the mat. 

26.2 miles to go. 

The first few are very, very slow. 15 minute miles. I will not make it. My family sees me. They are worried. They know. I’m not well. I try taking as much water, Gatorade, and gu as I can. I take salt and ibuprofen.

Mile 4. I find my angel in the blue shirt. “I will never make it.” He cries. He explains his biggest regret – a DNF in a 100 mile race. “You have to come back, for me.”

Ok. I look in his eyes. He is serious. So am I.

Like a switch. The outside energy comes in. I have life again. I will finish.

That moment marked the switch. From there, I lit up. Energy out- Energy in. Cheering on my fellow runners. Cheering on my volunteers. Giving them what I could. “Thank you” “Good Job” “Good Luck” salt, smiles… whatever I could. And with every step, more energy.

Family- all smiles on the return for mile 13. Clean energy. They knew. I would finish. I explain, “I’m running the downhills, walking the uphills as fast as I can.” Jared: “I will walk with you when you come back.”

Mile 13, 8:00pm. 4 hours to finish 13 miles. I have it. I walk fast. 12 minute miles. Jared joins me. He is so proud. His face is beaming. So grateful for my brother. So proud of his pride.

The sun descends, the stars appear. Heaven becomes more clear. Stronger. Happier. Energy, energy, energy. Lighting up the world.  

Multiplication in my head… minutes per mile. Finishing. I got this. I got this. Volunteers start telling me I’m an Ironman. “Not YET!!! But I will be!” I am passing people. “You go girl!” I’m one of very few still jogging.

Mile 22. Angel in the blue t-shirt waits in the middle of the street “Is that my girl!?!?” I run to him and hug him. “I WILL FINISH BECAUSE OF YOU!!!” And then quietly… “You changed my life today. Thank you so much.” He cries again and tells me to go find the finish. I start to run off. People at the aid stations on both sides of me start to cheer. Energy out, energy in.

I can hear him… Mr Ironman… Yelling… bringing in the finishers. And then, I see him.

I look behind me. Nate, a friend I made on the bike from the Navy, is behind me. He won’t catch me. I will barf at the finish line before he catches me. I sprint. Mom wants me to stop for a picture. I smile. I move… high fives. I hear my name. I look up. 15:59:37.

Ironman.

Pretty cool.

Two volunteers. They worry. I sprinted. My heart is too fast. I bend over. Squat for a second. “Do you need medical?” No, I just need my heart to slow down. “Well, you’re in the middle of the chute.” Oh, do you want me to move? Ok… I move. They put the medal on. Wrap a space blanket around me. It’s too hot. I take it off. Water. Picture.

“There’s pizza in the tent ahead, I will walk you there.” Ok.

But then, my family. My daddy with his arms stretched out. Waiting. My mama crying. The rest of them glowing. Energy out, energy in. Pictures, laughter. 

This is an awful picture of me, but the way my dad's arms are reaching out to me is so priceless. Brings me to tears every time I see it. 

Pizza, goodbyes.

Back to the finish. Cheering on the last finishers. Dancing. Singing. So happy.

Massage. Bike, bags and back to the hotel for beer.

24 hours later, back in bed with sore toes – on cloud nine.

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