Friday, November 6, 2009

Ironman Hawaii Race Report, part 4

Warning: LONG! (but you already knew that...)

It seems very surreal that just a few short weeks ago (has it been that long already?) I was in Hawaii, wearing compression socks, and sweating buckets in the tropical heat. Now I'm fighting a lingering cold. My socks are wool instead of compression, and my post-race euphoria has been replaced by a cloudy expanse of cold medicine and Nyquil.

How quickly the times change!

But such is life.

You'll have to pardon the rambling bits of this segment. I know, I know - it’s my writing style and such. But add the element of too many cups of coffee and a never ending flow of over-the-counter-cold-relief, and you've got a potent mix.

TRANSITION 2:

One of my (many) goals going into Ironman Hawaii was to have speedier transitions than the ones I had at Coeur d'Alene. Sure, sure, I realize that every race site is different and that the layout can provide logistical nightmares for the numbers-focused triathlete, but in all honesty. I really. Took. My. Time. In. T. 2. During. That. (CDA). Race. Period.

Seriously – tying their shoes??? What self-respecting triathlete does that? Sheesh.

In the weeks leading up to Kona, I made sure to replace my regular laces with speed laces, and enjoyed watching Anabelle go nuts chasing, retrieving, and bringing me discarded shoe laces. At least someone was having fun with them.

After handing my bike off to the ready volunteers, I ran under the BIKE IN banner and took a sharp right. The transition area was already filled-to-the-brim with waiting bikes, and it was pretty humbling to see the vast array. Evidently, the entire field of athletes had (seemingly) passed me during the bike and were already tackling the marathon. At least that’s what it felt like when I saw the thousand+ bikes that were already racked by the brilliant volunteers.

The crowd support was amazing; their attention drawn towards T2 and athletes exiting on to the run course, as the professionals had yet to finish. They were very supportive and vocal, and I could hear their cheers accompany me as I wound my way past the first few bikes.

I was planning on sprinting around the outside of the pier – following the slick green astro-turf (the same stuff that I slipped on exiting the water) – grabbing my T2 RED RUN bag, changing in the tent, and CHARGING out of the arena.

Then I saw the Port-O-Potty.

And Mother Nature took its course.

It was almost as though my legs adopted a mindset of their own, and in spite of commanding myself to KEEP GOING FORWARD AND JUST PEE ON YOURSELF DURING THE RUN, my body just had to go elsewhere.

Before I knew, it I had charged into the loo – bike helmet and all- nearly knocking over one surprised gentleman as he was exiting the one adjacent. I didn’t even apologize for my rudeness.

And then –

Relief.

And as I sat there, in that portable toilet on the Kailua-Kona Pier in the middle of the Hawaii Ironman, I realized that for the FIRST TIME that day, I was sitting down, not moving, and totally relaxed. It seemed almost a shame to have to run a marathon.

If only I could stay here – in this (literal) shit hole where I was comfortable and relaxed – but I knew that I could not. And the longer that I waited, the more difficult it would be to stand up and start moving again. But it seemed a real shame to have to leave….

But the sooner I got moving, the sooner I would be done. It took the thought a moment to register, and as quickly as I had dashed in, I ran out, intent on taking as little time possible in the changing tent.

My legs felt surprisingly good as I ran. And I was hardly embarrassed at all by my port-o-potty beeline – the volunteers were so understanding and reassuring. Looking back on that day, I’m sure they had pretty much seen everything, anyway. At least I made it to the bathroom.

Yes – there is ALWAYS a reason to be happy about the little things.

I had left my bike shoes clipped into my pedals, so this time running around The Pier, I was able to move a lot faster. I yelled my number – “1774!!!” to the (amazingly) still excitable volunteers at the rows and rows of T2 bags – and before I knew it, someone had handed me my bag and I entered the changing tent.

Almost immediately a volunteer grabbed my waist and I was steered towards a chair on the far corner. I don’t really know when it happened, but someone thoughtfully draped a very-cold-but-not-uncomfortably-icy towel over my shoulders and across my back. I was grateful! I dumped out my bag and we – because now I had three volunteers all to myself – started sorting through my vast array of stuff.

I should mention that at this time, I finally removed my helmet.

I decided to keep my socks on and quickly slipped my feet into the running shoes. Voices were calling to my left and right –

“Do you want sunscreen?”

“What about your visor??”

“How many gels do you want?”

And I did my very best to sort through them all. It was very surreal, and for a moment I felt that I was outside of my body, staring down at the scene and my befuddled self below. All I wanted was to slow down, take my time, and figure out what I needed – but my sense of urgency coupled with in the ever-enthusiastic volunteers, made me feel that I had no other option except to rush.

I stood up and peeled off my bike shirt. I think I gave them a heads up because before I knew it, someone had unfurled my white running tank top and was helping me to wrestle it over my wet shoulders. I was sorry to let the towel go, but I desperately needed sunscreen on my back, shoulders, arms, and every other spot of still-visible skin. I was seriously concerned about the skin on my forearms; and was sure that my sunburn would be painful at best and with me for a long-long-long time at worst.

Someone rubbed in/on as much sunscreen as they could, while I proceeded to stuff two NUUN capsules of salt tabs and a rescue inhaler down my bra. Yes, there was room – but the look was one of a prickly uniboob. Oh well – it was better than carrying everything in a baggie or holding onto it. Besides, I needed my hands to grab water, ice, sponges, and anything else that might come in handy during the marathon ahead.

I glanced at my Powergels – I had a double latte and strawberry banana available, along with vanilla and chocolate. There was NO WAY that I wanted to carry 4, 6, or (as I had done during CDA) 8 gels. It just seemed pointless and stupid. So I grabbed the first two and contemplated briefly where to place them.

Down my sports bra – with the 2 salt tabs and inhaler – would make me look even bustier. And yes, it was possible. But no, it wasn’t something that I wanted. Instead I stuffed one up each tri-short leg and hoped fervently that I wouldn’t have to dig anywhere unpleasant to retrieve them. During practice (while cycling), they had always remained in place. But I wasn’t sure about the running part. (Let it be known, I avoid running in spandex as much as possible.)

With nothing else to do I glanced around one more time to make sure I had everything.

It seemed so wrong – to go out and run a marathon with seemingly so little time to prepare – but in all reality, I had been preparing for this moment long before I earned my spot to this race. I knew what needed to be done, had spent countless hours, innumerable time running mile after endless mile.

It had started with my Dad when I was in elementary school and progressed through high school. When times were hard in college with rowing, I turned to running as an outlet. When I couldn’t sleep, I ran. And when Nathaniel deployed – running was something that helped me through the loneliest hours. And even at this very moment, when I think about my ‘perfect’ day – it always begins with a run. Sure, the scenery changes – from Lake Superior’s North Shore, or around St. Paul’s Como Lake. To a red and rocky California desert, from the tall pines of Eastern North Carolina, to the wide expanses of Florida’s white sandy beaches.

Running has always been my constant.

Leaving transition, I knew exactly what I had to do.

The sunlight was dazzling as I left the tent, its heat radiating instantly on my person. I saw the OFFICIAL RACE CLOCK and it read 7:31:-- as I ran under the RUN OUT banner. I re-started my watch and glanced down to make sure it was working.

Well okay then, I thought to myself, if you can run a sub-4-hour marathon, you’ll break 11:30. And so that became my new goal and immediate focus.

THE RUN:

The crowd was going NUTS as I ran out. I have no idea how the Kona spectators do it – standing around, cheering, waiting, and cheering more all day in the heat and sun. And humidity! They deserve volunteers and aid stations all for themselves. I could hear people call out my race number and say encouraging things – but my focus was sticking with the group of girls who had exited T2 shortly ahead of me.

If I could keep them in my sights and let them pull me along – then maybe, just maybe, the challenge of running a marathon in the middle-of-the-day-Hawaii-heat wouldn’t seem so daunting. Plus, it was great to have other people on the course with me, because for so much of the bike segment, I had felt entirely alone.

I made sure to keep my stride quick and light as I ran up the short section of Palani hill onto Kuakini Highway. I was making constant assessments of my person, gauging how my legs felt and whether or not my back and neck muscles were tense from hours spent riding in aero on the bike.

Overall my body felt as good as it could, having just completed a 2.4 mile swim and 112 mile bike. I didn’t feel fast necessarily, but I knew that as long as I held (roughly) the same, consistent pace throughout the run – I would be fine. I had paced and fueled myself SMARTLY during the bike, and somehow – just knew that I would end up running around a 3:55. Don’t ask me how – and no, I know that 1) it is NOT fast compared to other people 2) it is way slower than my CDA run time but 3) I was OKAY with it. I knew the heat and humidity would be tough, but I trusted my training, trusted my training up to that point. I sort of just figured that that’s what I would do – and that would be great.

Running through the town was amazing – I could see people holding their race programs and looking up athlete’s based on their bib numbers. A few people yelled, “GO MARIT!” and I was again amazed at the fact they were standing where they were, cheering me on.

And then there were the aid stations.

If I could describe Heaven on earth (for an athlete of any sort) – it would be the aid stations of Ironman Hawaii.

It started with water…sponges, and then gels, coke, Gatorade, ice (if we were lucky), sponges, more Gatorade, ice, sponges, and finally more water. I knew that if I slowed down too much, I would lose time on the run, so I did my best to grab cups of water, sponges, and ice whenever I could. I think I ran through nearly every aid station, slowly briefly through one or two. The temptation to stop and walk otherwise was too great.

I quickly developed a system: grab sponge and stuff under bra straps, grab water and sip, yell ICE and dump ice down bra (my uniboob was now bordering on offensive, but I could care less), if necessary grab a gel (only did that 3 or 4 times during the entire marathon…one gel every 40 minutes or so…), grab more ice on the way out to carry with me for the next mile, and one more cup of water to either 1) sip or 2) dump over my head.

By mile 1 I looked as though I had just emerged from Kailua Bay, I kid you not.

But the crowd support carried me on, and I knew that between mile post 1.5 and 2 on Ali’i Drive, I would probably see Nathaniel, Elizabeth, and Chris.

It was a cruel and unusual twist of fate – having our absolutely fantastic and wonderful Kona condo right on Ali’i drive. I could see the Kona Makai Condos a few blocks before the turn off into the driveway, and I thought briefly how wonderful laying in bed would be. But as soon as the thought entered my mind, I pushed it out. I was exactly where I was supposed to be at the time I was supposed to be…. This is what I’m supposed to be doing….just keep going….

Then I saw Chris taking photos and I hoped that I didn’t look too gross.

Then I heard Liz yell, “You’re doing it! You look great! Are you having fun?”

The question caught me off guard and for a moment I didn’t know what to say. “This is hard – not really…!”

My words were left hanging for a moment in the air. I think Elizabeth looked about as puzzled as I felt… and I immediately regretted what I said.

Actually – it wasn’t that bad. I couldn’t hide my disappointment about my race times, but overall – I was doing the Hawaii Ironman and it wasn’t that bad. I was just…running. And feeling pretty darned good….especially compared to a lot of the other athletes that I was seeing on the course.

Then I saw Nathaniel. This time I didn’t stop to kiss him – like I did during CDA – I just said, “I love you guys.” And immediately started gasping for breath, emotional and nearly crying because we HAD made it! We got through the tough times, icky workouts, lack of social life, long weekends – and we were here in Hawaii!

And there was nothing I could do – except to keep going. So I did.

A few moments later I nearly stopped dead in my tracks.

Because coasting by me on a VERY sketchy-looking single speed, red beach cruiser bike was my husband.

I should mention at this point – I have NEVER seen Nathaniel on a bike. I just don’t think the boy likes two-wheeled things (unless they involve motorcycles, but I refuse to let him get one because of the risks and mortality rate (Yes, I trust HIM, it’s the other drivers that have me worried) – besides, he flies helicopters….isn’t that enough of a rush?). Yet there he was – wearing his red shirt, swimming shorts, and Birkenstock Sandals, cruising down the hill on this ridiculously heavy red bike.

And then he stopped and yelled, “You’re looking GREAT!”

Which I knew was a lie.

First – only the best runners look truly great when they run. And as I am NOT amongst those genetically gifted freaks, I knew he was mistaken. Second, I was wearing spandex and covered in water and sweat. Third, I had a uniboob. Fourth, I was running in said spandex. Fifth, I was three miles into a marathon after swimming and biking. Sixth, I was running in spandex. Seventh, uniboob. Eighth, spandex and running. Need I say more?

So I replied, “You’re such a liar!” just as he took a picture. Later, I discovered he was recording the entire thing. Oops.

At least I smiled.

Because deep down, I WAS having fun, and I was really happy that he was there.

I found myself getting into a good groove, following 20 or 30 feet behind a girls with a grey sports bra and black bike shorts. She seemed to hold a decent pace, speeding up between aid stations and then slowing down to take water and Gatorade. I made it my mission to keep the gap close.

Passing the 4-mile-marker on Ali’i, I saw “Deirdre.” As I knew my friend and fellow animal lover was not in Hawaii, I wondered how the sign with her name – sticking up out of a parking cone in the middle of the course – got to where it was. I took notice of it, as weird as it was, and kept going. At that point, I could have seen any number of peculiar things – flying saucer, John Wayne, or even a polar bear in the middle of Hawaii – and I wouldn’t have really questioned their presence. Another byproduct of Ironman, I suppose.

Just before the turn around on Ali’i Drive, Kerrie W came trucking past me, wearing her favorite bathing suit. I wondered briefly if she had worn it under her biking jersey and wished her GOOD LUCK as she kept moving forward. She looked great and it gave me confidence to know that someone as fast as her was on the course in the same spot as me. Sure, we still had 21 miles to go – but I felt better knowing that there were so many strong people still around me.

Running back towards town, I continued to mosey along to the best of my ability. My salt pills, crammed into the NUUN bottles made a rattling noise, that reminded me of the home-made vibrato practicing devices my mom had made when I was learning how to play the violin. For 15 minutes each day, I would hold an empty film canister, filled with unpopped kernels of popping corn, and gently shake my wrist back and forth (keeping my forearm still and relaxed) – developing proper technique and making a tap-tap-taping noise in the process. I don’t know how my parents kept from going nuts; but they encouraged me, always.

Somewhere around mile 7 or 8 I repassed a guy, who said, “I knew you were coming up behind me, because I’ve been listening to that rattling for the past 10 minutes.”

He said it in good humor and I thought briefly how to respond.

“Do you want some salt??? Because I’ve got a TON! And if you think this is bad, how do you think I feel? I’ve got to run another 18 miles with this stuff.”

But we soldered on, lost on our own worlds of the Ironman run, listening to the cacophony of footsteps, and dimly aware of those cheering around us. The blocks on Ali’i Drive slipped past, their black-rock fences and yards overflowing with colorful flowers and enormous trees. The shade provided relief and I hoped that the rain, which had looked so promising while biking on the Queen K, would finally break. I don’t think it ever did; though the humidity was oppressive.

One last pass of the Kona Makai condos, I made. I looked briefly towards the approximate area where our unit was, and figured that – in a few hours – I would be drinking beer and eating ice cream on the lanai. Sore, happy, and DONE with Ironman. I smiled as I passed the building and waved towards Chris and Liz.

I was going to say something else to Elizabeth, about how I could do this, but she took one look at me and said, “Oh Marit. You’re fine. I’m not worried about you.” And she then immediately started yelling at someone going the other way.

And she meant business!

Though she is small and elf-like, that girl most definitely packs a powerful punch. I could hear her voice for another thirty or forty seconds while I ran the opposite direction, glad that she wasn’t giving me chase. Not that I could have sped much up, anyway. As we ALL know, there is one pace in Ironman pace.

Ironman pace.

Nathaniel, on the other hand, continue to bike ahead, stopping briefly to let me pass, and the passing at various points along the way. It was quite comforting, knowing that he was out there – waiting for me.

Right before passing Lava Java, I had my moment of oh-my-god-I’m-going-to-shit-myself panic. I looked briefly for a port-o-potty, and realized – to my horror – that I saw none. I thought FOR SURE that Michelle’s prediction – that I would need to poop sometime during the run – was about to come true. And to my detriment, it would be in full and spectacular view of the thousands of spectators lining the sea wall and waiting for their lunch at Lava Java.

I looked for anything along the road to hide behind, but as the road was packed with spectators 3 to 5 persons deep – there simply was NO space. I reconciled briefly the fact that my shorts were dark – so if anything uber gross appeared, at least it would be disguised. Hopefully no one would recognize me.

I tensed, felt my stomach gurgle and waited for the explosion. For the briefest of moments, I actually prayed to a Higher Power. And waited.

Instead, I let rip the LOUDEST, most ripping fart ever. I think a few people actually stopped clapping and just stared. But I couldn’t help it. I didn’t know if I should laugh, cheer, or just die of humiliation. It was horrible. But it could have been worse.

Much worse.

I don’t know how I didn’t crap myself down Ali’i Drive, but I didn’t. And yes, I did speed up, for the briefest of moments. Let’s take the Ironman Pace off the board and replace it with Super-Embarrassed-About-Bodily-Function-and- Running-Away-From-Witness-pace. How about that?

During the brief stint of speediness, I noticed a Hawaiian Shaved Ice stand, and people who had gathered around and were eating these GIANT snow-cone-like things. Thank goodness that I had never tried Hawaiian Shaved Ice (at that point)…because if I knew what it was like BEFORE the Ironman, I am 100% sure I would have stopped in the middle of my race and 1) begged for a free one 2) if no free options were available, begged a bystander for one or (if all else had failed) 3) steal one from a little kid and run like hell.

So along with Ironman pace, and Bodily-Function-Running-Away-From-Witness pace, there’s Stealing-Hawaiian-Shaved-Ice pace. And the last, my friends, is the fastest of them all.

Quickly I made my way through the rest of the town, up the small hill towards Kuakini and then set my sights towards Palani hill. I knew it would be a beast to climb (again), and I focused on my foot strikes and cadence – making sure to keep them quick and light.

Remember those surreal things you see during an Ironman but don’t really process?

Running the 1/3 to ½ mile segment up the 8%-grade Palani hill was one of those times. I was keeping my head down, pumping my arms, and making sure to lift my knees, when suddenly, out of the corner of my right eye, I see a man wearing a red shirt and pushing a heavy bike up the hill.

I nearly farted (again!) laughing, and took a mental snap-shot. Yes, there was Nathaniel, pushing his bike up the hill in an effort to see me running down the Queen K. I couldn’t believe he was out this far, cheering me 10-11+ miles into the Ironman run. Especially since I had already been racing for 9+ hours. I knew it had been a long day for him, and I was deeply touched that he was willing to commandeer (ie steal) a bike from a neighboring condo unit (it was all Elizabeth and Chris’s idea. And we sooo did it a week later while exploring the town together. Pictures to follow – I promise). But I found all that out later. At the time, all I knew was that my husband was pushing one clunker of a bike up Palani.

And looking determined!

The Queen K is where the Hawaii Ironman really begins. While the first 10 miles of the run are sheltered along Ali’i and filled with the cheering of thousands of spectators, the Queen K Highway is a desolate space. An expanse of lava rock, shimmering heat, where the black road stretches seemingly forever and up into the distance.

An endless stream of athletes – running to and returning from the Natural Energy Lab at the turnaround – greeted my view. And though I knew it was only four miles to the top of the lab, the space along the long, straight road seemed to stretch and double in distance. Additionally, the hills that had seemed so tame on the bike and from the car now looked teasingly unforgiving. The heat added a twisted sense of masochism to the entire ordeal.

But I kept going, cheered by the fact that with every step taken, I was that much closer to the finish. Also, I knew that soon I would start seeing people that I knew running back towards town. And there was always Nathaniel and his newfound red bike friend– bound to cruise by me at any moment.

Mile after mile ticked by…I had my aid station routine down, and everything seemed to be absorbing into my system. My body felt oddly okay, considering I was racing in Hawaii…though I did notice my hands swelling slightly and was immediately happy that during race registration, I had insisted my athlete wristband be placed loosely on my wrist.

I saw Nathaniel twice but have no recollection of what he said or any words exchanged. I think he was more bemused by the infinite number of runners, slowly plodding back and forth. Some definitely looked better than others, and I am now convinced that Ironman is just as much about energy conservation and being smart, as it is about training and mental preparation. You can train with the best, be psychologically ready to battle the demons that will inevitably crop up in your life and on race day – but if you’re (for lack of a better word) stupid about your race, then your body will pay one way or another.

It’s one thing to push too hard in a sprint, Olympic, or half Ironman distance event. It’s an entirely different story with Ironman, and I think the conditions of Kona only exacerbate that fact.

But I also realize that it takes guts and sometimes – being stupid at the right time or just GOING FOR IT – in order to win and to do well. And to those athletes that take risks and feel okay doing that regardless of the outcome, well, I salute you. It takes courage and guts…to a certain extent. I understand where they’re coming from and realize that sometimes, you just need to break out of the mold and do something uncommon to have the result you want. For me – the timing wasn’t right. And for my first time in Hawaii, that’s not what I wanted (or was capable of doing).

And then I saw Ryan. I could tell he was hurting – and though I was initially planning on making a joke about the heat or how my legs ached, the moment I saw his shuffle and plodding steps – I knew that he was hurting in a bad way. The GREAT news for him, was that he only had a few miles left to run…it would all be over soon. And he ended up having a great day and a solid race – and I couldn’t have been happier for him.

A mile or two later I saw Charisa, training partner extraordinaire, running and looking very focused. I knew that her goal was to earn one of the famed Hawaiian bowls (given to the top-5 in each age group), and realized, based on how few age group women I had seen running back from the Energy Lab, she had to be near the top. I yelled but I think it took a few moments for my words to register – I could sense her focus and I sent her as many ‘speedy’ vibes as I could.

In the end she got earned her bowl and podium spot, and for all of the people I knew racing that day, I was the most happy for her. She’s one of those athletes who are genuinely as nice in person as they are on their blog. She loves the sport, really loves training – but her life has an incredible balance. Later – with two miles to go for my own race, Elizabeth (from the same red bike Nathaniel was riding on earlier) had yelled that Charisa had finished 5th, and I felt myself getting a little emotional. Seeing friends and people who you really care about succeed makes me happy – and I was over the moon about her race.

Within ½ mile of the Energy Lab, I came across a friend and fellow athlete walking on the course.

“Run with me – you can do i!” I called, slowing down briefly. I had seen her earlier during the bike, but I knew Jennifer was having a tough time, especially since she had just qualified at IM Kentucky only a few weeks before.

“I’m done. Toasted. Keep going Marit!” she called back.

My heart went out to her, because I knew that it could have just as easily been me. There were so many people walking along the Queen K at this point – many more walking than actually running. Indeed the Ironman was taking its toll, and for the first time since getting on my bike – I was actually happy that I had watched my heart rate and biked easy.

I suppose that Ironman is really an exchange of one thing for another; figure out how much speed your willing to sacrifice in one area (the bike) and make up for it in another (the run). It all goes back to energy management, I guess. But it could also go the other way – bike like a bat out of hell to escape the heat and legendary trade winds and figure that you’re going to hurt running ANYWAY, regardless of how hard you went or didn’t go during the bike. I suppose with only 2 Ironmans under my belt, I’m still on the learning curve.

Just as I was turning away, about to carry forward and run into the legendary Energy Lab, I heard a guy exclaim, “Wait! Marit?? The Marit who knows Elizabeth Rich?”

I turned around. How could I not?

It was one of those surreal moments that you are never really prepared for. And it just goes to show – even in the middle of Ironman Hawaii – how small the sport can feel. Running through the lava fields, I can safely say that I didn’t expect my name to be called out by someone that I didn’t recognize.

But I gave him a big grin and said, “YES! I’ve never met her – but she share the same coach!”

Then he told me that he was Marc Rubin, and I nearly stopped.

“Holy cow! You’re Marc Rubin?!?!! Oh my gosh – can I just tell you how awesome you are??”

I had followed Marc’s incredible story – from weight loss success to Ironman finishes, and then his quest to a sub-10 Ironman finish and Kona slot. I was thrilled when – at Ironman New Zealand this past year – he made both his time goal and earned his ticket to Hawaii. But there he was, determined as ever on the Queen K, asking if I was…er….me!

We chatted for a few seconds and did our best to encourage each other. I could tell he was having a tough day – but then again, there were MANY people who were (at that point) hurting. And before I knew it, I was taking a sharp left and looking down into the Natural Energy Lab.

In all of the film and TV footage of Ironman Hawaii, it has always been the helicopter shots of runners plodding through the furnace and shimmering heat of the Energy Lab that sticks out in my mind. Spectators, cars, bicycles – nothing is allowed on that 4-mile stretch of road, except for those lucky athletes and race volunteers.

The gentle downhill slope didn’t send spasms shooting into my quads like I thought it would. Perhaps because I wasn’t running nearly as fast as I had been during Coeur d’Alene, or maybe because in my run training leading up to Kona, I had focused a lot on strengthening my quads. Regardless, I was happy to not experience the mind boggling pain.

I could see runners on the way up the hill, and I cheered Kerrie W as she passed, determinedly putting one foot ahead of the other. Most athletes carried the same determined look and I knew their face mirrored my own. We were between miles 16-20 of the Hawaii Ironman run – so close we could taste it, but still looking to run an additional 10-15k to the finish. A seemingly not-so-difficult distance any other day, but one that appeared endless in our race weary minds.

I could see air planes taking off from the Kona airport, their huge frames making the ground shake below. I wondered briefly about the passengers – who they were and where they were going. I envied them, with their comfortable seats, air conditioned apartments, and ability to drink adult beverages.

I could see the road stretch towards the water, its hypnotic force lulling me forward one step after another. It stretched an indescribable distance ahead, and though I could see the blue sea reaching for the horizon beyond, I knew the path to the finish lay the opposite direction from whence I was traveling.

I could see helicopters circling off in the distance and I wondered how the pilots came to the point they were at – did they ever think they would fly during the Ironman (or for the Ironman?) And I wondered if Nathaniel would ever want to fly in Hawaii. No doubt, he could make it happen if he wanted to. Of that, I did not question.

And I could see my own shadow, plodding tirelessly along next to me – its presence a comfort in a way I never thought possible. She was there because the sun, though dipping ever so slowly towards the tireless ocean, had yet to sink below the horizon. Daylight was still upon me, and my shadow kept me company as I passed the run special needs bags and (still!) enthusiastic volunteers at mile 18.

You never know who exactly, you’re going to run into during a race. You may see a familiar face, someone who you’ve only seen briefly or read about on line. Then there are the strong training partners headed one way while you go the other. But the flip side is that you pass people who may not be having the race they want. People just like you, out on the course, determined to finish – no matter what it takes. Would it surprise you if they called your name (again?) Or if you recognized them from behind?

Just before the Energy Lab turnaround, I passed my training partner and friend Darcy. She was still laughing and smiling and we joked about the toughness of the day. It just seemed surreal. And then later, after passing special needs and the volunteers eager to hand individual runners items from their specific bags, I came up to Caroline – another training partner. She too said that she was done, toasted, finished.

It seemed that Ironman was truly taking its toll, one person after another.

But we had all sacrificed, all paid our dues, and were now – mile after mile, step after step – getting nearer to our ultimate goal of finishing. One step at a time. Inch by inc. Mile by mile. We were making it happen.

Running up and out of the Energy Lab was pretty much uneventful. I realized that I (again!) really needed to pee, but couldn’t for the life of me see any port-o-potties in sight. But it didn’t really matter, as I wouldn’t have wanted to take the time and sit down anyway. I thought briefly about trying to wait until I hit the top of the hill and was on the return stretch to the Queen K. But my body – which had so far listened to nearly everything that I commanded of it – had other plans.

Yes it was gross, but I finally peed on myself. I recalled briefly my very first triathlon EVER, where, during the 3-mile run section, I had just gone all over my legs. Sure it was only a sprint race… But the 64 oz of water that I drank thirty minutes before the start certainly didn’t help. Luckily I’ve learned my lesson. Trust me.

Seriously?? 64 oz of water?? Oh my gosh.

Do you ever want to shake your head and then give your younger self a hug?

Crossing back onto the Queen K, these were the exact thoughts that I had.

But quickly, my mind turned to the distance that still lay ahead. 10k. 10 lousy kilometers. 6.2 miles.

And then I started the math.

In the past, during Olympic-distance race, I’ve covered 10k in around 40 minutes. But there was NO way I would run that fast now. So… at worst case, if I held a 10-minute mile, then it would take me 61 or 62 minutes to reach the finish. But – if I sped things up, I could be done in just under 50. I glanced at my watch and decided that as long as I held roughly 9-minute miles, I should break 11:30 for my overall time.

But I also knew enough to realize that shit happens (literally. I had seen enough of it on the course that day), and things could always change.

So I did my best to zone out, focus on my steps, making my way from one aid station to another, and just keep moving. Keep moving. Breath. Keep moving.

I know for a fact that I carried on a conversation with Elizabeth and Chris. At this point, Nathaniel had biked back to the condo and returned the “loaner” bike. Now it was Elizabeth’s turn to ride the Red Monster (yes that sounds really bad I know), while Chris was on his own bike. They told me about who won – and I thought it a cruel twist of fate that the actual race participants themselves would find out hours after the race was won, who actually did it. Elizabeth called out that Charisa had made the podium and I felt myself smile.

They reassured me that I was doing fine, that my stride looked great, and that I was almost there. I’m not sure if I threatened to ever do the race again, but I do remember asking Chris to take my sunglasses. The sun was rapidly sinking and – about 2 miles from the finish – I realized my race was going to end after the sun had set.

My disappointment was immediately overshadowed as I watched the most gorgeous sunset I’ve ever seen. The colors were magnificent – the deepest reds, oranges, purples and then blues extending up into the yawning sky. The bright ball of sun seemed to shimmer, its glow casting an alluring light to all running on the Queen K. I turned to look and nearly stopped running in spite of myself. I wanted to capture this shot, this moment, and save it forever.

But I knew that something like this – watching a cloudless sunset from the Queen K while racing the Hawaii Ironman – was something that too few would ever have the privledge of experiencing in their lives. I wanted to yell, to shout, to shake the runners I was passing and scream, “Look! Look! It’s amazing!”

But people were so focused on their race, and crossing that line. Had it really come to that? Were people so attuned towards the finish that they couldn’t look around and realize the surrounding beauty? For Pete’s sake – we were on the island of Hawaii, with the clearest waters that I’ve ever seen, teeming with colorful fish and sea creatures we normally see from behind aquarium walls.

Everyone – not just during this magical moment – but throughout the entire week, had been so focused on the task at hand, on this ONE race, this one seemingly insignificant event. They ran stony-faced down Ali’i drive, checked out the competition at Dig Me Beach, and failed to truly celebrate the island OR the fact that they were racing on one of triathlon’s largest stages.

And that, my friends, is sad.

So as foolish as it may seem to some, I slowed for a few moments to watch the sun sink. The golden yellow orb seemed to hover and then it was suddenly gone, and we were left looking at the empty, but colorful sky. I couldn’t swear it, but for the briefest of moments, I’m sure that I saw a small green flash – a refraction of light in the atmosphere that lasts for only a second. And then it was gone.

I’ve waited all my life to see the green flash, have spent numerous sunsets running along the Pacific Coast Highway or walking out from our patio to the cliff’s edge to see the sun set. I had never seen the famed green flash. But in Hawaii while running the Ironman, I’m convinced that I did.

Or perhaps I was just hallucinating. I was 2 miles from the finish of a 140.6 mile race. You never know.

I gritted my teeth and pumped my arms, trying to keep pace with an occasional person who passed me, but more often than not, running past other athletes. I could feel the wear and tear on the final uphill heading into town. Passing BikeWorks was great, though – they STILL had their stereo speakers pumping with music, and the crowd outside was getting rowdier by the minute.

Whenever I passed someone, I always tried to say, “Good job – hang in there!” It just seemed too lonely not to.

And then someone else responded, “Marit? Is that you?”

I instantly recognized Elizabeth Daubner – and my heart went out to her. She mentioned that her legs were fried and I knew she had given the race her all. I recalled our conversation towards the end of the bike segment of Oceanside…how I managed to pass her on the flats and she would drop me easily on the up hills. And then later, she made sure I didn’t get lost during the Mission Bay Half Ironman. Yes, directions were never my strong point.

We ran the ½ mile together down Palani hill and my quads finally decided that they had had enough. There I was, thinking that maybe, just maybe, my legs would feel okay after running this race. Then I run “fast-ish” for .5 miles down an 8% gradient hill. I think it’s safe to say that anyone’s legs would be “feeling” it.

I heard my timing chip beep and knew that there was approximately one mile to go. One more mile and I could be DONE with this thing. I could hear Mike Reilley yelling from behind the church as I turned onto Kuakini Highway, and I knew that within a matter of minutes I would be done.

It seemed so close, but so far.

People cheered and yelled as I ran by. I did my best to pick up my knees, and make myself look as presentable as possible for my finish-line photo. I never thought I would care about how I looked, but – at the moment – I had no less than 4 sponges stuffed in various parts of my body, and my uniboob was making a clacking noise (from the salt tabs). Somewhere along the way I threw all but one of my sponges down at the final aid station and emptied out my sports bra, save the rescue inhaler.

I used the final sponge to wipe the sweat, grime, sludge, and god-knows-what-else off my face, and threw that to the ground as well. I wasn’t sure how much farther I would have to run, but I figured it would only be a matter of seconds before I was making a right down the hill towards Ali’i.

Evidently my timing was off. I kept looking hopefully ahead, sure that the NEXT block would yield my final turn. But it didn’t.

Finally, after passing a particularly rowdy group of people sporting Speedos and Cow Boy hats (and – I’m only guessing – a LARGE amount of alcohol), I saw my turn. I couldn’t help but grin at the group; they were either very confused Texans or very drunk Germans. Or maybe a combination of the two. Regardless, they were having a blast. And I doubt they would have any recollection of the day’s happenings.

The final hill wasn’t that bad, its grade not nearly as steep as Palani. Yes, it had been a pain to run up, but that was hours, ostensibly days before… Just a few more steps….

And then the turn.

Ali’I Drive was lit up like I’ve never seen it. Every shop was teeming with excitable patrons, and people lining the street – 5 deep in some places – were yelling and cheering. The bright lights made the sky seem dark overhead, and I did my best to keep from tripping on the road. I could see the finish line – just a few hundred meters away – lit up and more wonderful than anything I could have ever imagined.

“GO MARIT!!!” I heard one of Ryan’s Team White Hot members yell, and I caught myself wondering which restaurant they were at and – more importantly – how Ryan could even tolerate food at this point. Their shouts were great, and fitting towards the end of my journey.

The road curved slightly to the left, and I could see the finish-line glow emanating from behind the majestic trees that lined the drive. All around, people were turning their heads, waving, and clapping and for the first time that day I felt an inexplicable sob escape my lips. It was unexpected and I did my best to control the emotions.

Through everything; the hard work, sacrifice, times of doubt and insecurity, the missed parties, the stress and worry – I had made it. And at that moment – at that exact moment when I ran past the gargantuan trees and into the dazzling light, I knew that everything had been worth it. Because in a heart-beat, I would have been willing to go through it all a second time – just to experience this emotion. To feel the way I was feeling.

This is life at its best, its most raw, its purest.

At that very moment, I could understand why people fight to return to Kona year after year after year.

The finish is special. It is everything and nothing all at once. It is so much larger than you or what you’ve worked for. It is everything that you’ve done to reach this point in your life, and the friends and family who have been with you along the way. If I had my choice, I would have had so many people run with me down that chute; but as it were, I thought of you all just before my feet hit the gray carpet signaling the last 200 meters.

I saw Bob Mitera yelling at me from the sides, and I recalled how he had visited me twice in the hospital after my bike crash. It seemed so fitting to see him there at that moment.

And at that point, I had planned to slow down. To take everything in. To hug Nathaniel if I saw him and cheer WITH the spectators. Those incredible individuals who had been out cheering all darned day. I wanted to cherish the moment, take my time, and relish what I had just accomplished. Not only with the race, but with this entire season and journey.

Then I saw the girl.

And I just couldn’t help myself.

I noticed that she was just ahead – and though I had seen her out on the course of the day, it was only now – in the final moment’s of the race – that I coming up to her shoulder. I told myself that as long as she wasn’t in my age group, I would let her go ahead and I would finish at my own pace.

But then I noticed that her band was yellow, just like mine. And I couldn’t help it.

Way back when, while we were watching old footage of Ironman Hawaii, I told Nathaniel that I would NEVER EVER have a sprint finish in an Ironman. It just seemed silly. Hours and hours and hours of racing, only to “go for it” in the final few seconds?

Silly.

That’s short course. That’s sprint races. That’s elite amateur Olympic distance races, where every second counts.

But, as I picked up my pace and blew by her, that’s also a part of who I am. I can’t just sit back when I’m capable of more.

Call it what you want, I don’t really care.

Do you know what I think?

I think it was a sign of my sub-conscious screaming at me, “THIS IS WHAT YOU WANT! HELLO SHORT COURSE! NEXT YEAR! AND I’M ONLY GETTING STARTED!”

I picked up my knees, pumped my arms, looked up at the finish banner and ran past the crowds. Time seemed to slow down and I saw the cameras on the Other Side of the line before I actually crossed it. The tears had already been shed and I could feel my adrenaline pumping from my recent pass. I’m not exactly proud of running someone down in the finishing chute, but I just couldn’t help myself. Perhaps I really am ready for a return to short course and speed-type-racing.

Time will only tell.

And then…it was done.

I heard Mike Reilley call my name and say that I was an Ironman. And for the record, he got my name right and I couldn’t help but smile. I was immediately escorted by two volunteers who draped a towel over my shoulder and then a lei around my neck.

It was done. I had finished. I was a Hawaii Ironman survivor.

I looked around, amazed at the sights and sounds. People were still streaming across the finish and there seemed to be A LOT of cameras posed on the unwitting athlete as they hobbled down the ramp.

Then I heard Nathaniel. He had managed to make his way towards the finish, somehow push past the crowd thick with people, and make his way almost to my side. Except for the fact there was a giant guardrail and some very intense looking security people blocking his passage.

I told my volunteers who were escorting me that he was with ME! And could he please please please escort me to my bike and to everything else. He flashed his Athlete Helper Pass and they quickly agreed that it would be okay…

He jumped the fence and I gave him the biggest hug possible…

With that, I’ll have to finish. IF you’ve made it this far – congratulations. I salute you. I’m publishing this post without having edited or looked over my work. So it is in VERY rough shape. But no matter – I just wanted to get it over and done with. I may or may not post final thoughts…but as its been nearly a month since the race, I’m not really sure what I’ll say. But knowing me – it will be something.

Thank you to everyone – family, sponsors/supporters – PowerBar, Zipp, Scott, Saris Cycling Group, Brooks Running, Jen Harrison and Beth Shutt, countless friends, and people that I’ve never met. Your support was incredible – and I carried it with me all day.

I feel incredibly lucky, blessed, but most of all – happy.

Thank you.

25 comments:

ADC said...

Yay, You DID it. Great post.

TriGirl Kate O said...

We've been waiting for this post for a while and I for one was not disappointed. Oh so proud of you still!!!! xoxo

Nicole said...

You were right about the long post! :) It was really good! I love your writing style.

I don't know you, but I'm so proud of you! You are so inspiring!

Pedergraham said...

No editing needed--at all. I felt like I was right there the whole time. Wonderful 4th chapter!

Damie said...

thank gosh you came through with the run report. I have been bored to tears with nothing to read. I think that sounds like a great Hawaii IM. That was so cool to see so many people that knew you too!!!! Love it! Congrats!

cherelli said...

oh boy Marit, that was a great read! I laughed out loud when you "let rip" on your run :) Congratulations again!!

Kim said...

fantastic marit - you had me hanging on to every word and every step you took.

hilarious about the farting - i hope you were able to get rid of the tummy evils after the race?!

congrats again, you are amazing!

Train-This said...

whew, I need some endurox. frame this report sister, becasue it's a damn treasure! SO PROUD!

Ryan said...

You have seen me right?

I can always tolerate food :-)


For the record, Nate was the brightest part of the final 10k for me. Seeing him perched on top of that beach cruiser rolling down the Queen K...AWESOME memory!

Oh and one day, I will be stupid at the right time and be the first across the line. I figure it is like baseball's hitting percentage, 1 out of 10 is pretty good, too bad the other 9 times hurts a lot.

Great Job Marit!!!!

GoBigGreen said...

Ahh! Thank you! I knew i could get you to post it b4 my big day. You rock and I am so excited to see you somewhere, sometime this coming year. Maybe at home or maybe in CA.
I wish you had a pic of Nathanial and his bike:)

Wytosk said...

finally!

You rock Marit. Thanks for sharing a bit of the journey and the race. May you recover fast!

Mama Simmons said...

That's so awesome you met Marc on the course! Poor guy.. had a very tough day... Anyway, it was fun to read your report... brought back a lot of good memories. You should re-read your own report before you race it again (whenever that will be) to remind yourself about what an awesome event the whole thing really is. :)

Kate Parker said...

Great report!

I LOVED that you sprinted to the finish. No apologies necessary for that, ever! :)

Charisa said...

You did awesome!! And I loved the part about the fart!!! When Nick and I were out in the energy lab we were both farting and burping and it was soooo funny! Had I not been trying so hard to not lose that bowl I would have probably laughed so hard my side would have hurt :) Thanks for your nice words, that really meant a lot.

kerrie said...

tee hee! i love the fart part too, but especially the running away from it! Aren't you always so surprised that people even "dare" to wear white shorts? There is just so much potential there for mishaps...lol.
I am also so jealous if you did indeed see the Green Flash. Rain and I spent every single night that we were there looking for it, and missed it.
And yes - the finish line - best feeling in the world ever. You'll miss it. You'll be back without a doubt!

D said...

For the record, I started reading this at 7am. Yep, I JUST finished it!

I'm glad that I could somehow manage to get my name on a sign without actually being there and that you actually saw it! You know I wanted more than anything to be there, especially for you, but it wasn't meant to be.

I'm so proud of you - mostly for planning a short course year for next year ;)

Beth said...

MARIT!!! Oh my gosh. I love, love, love ALL your race reports but this last part of your Kona report is by far my favorite. It did take me 2 sittings to read it...but it was definitely worth it!! :)

You had me nearly crying from laughter (the fart, oh my gosh - HILARIOUS) and crying from the emotion of a battle well fought. You are such a trooper. And such a competitor. I would have tried to outspint that person at the end too. It's just a natural reaction!!

The short course world better watch out next year!!!! :)

Jennifer Yake Neuschwander said...

Great race report Marit. The way you captured the finish and meaning of it is so cool. I loved the part about the fart. I am laughing about it. I'm going to think of you at IMAZ when that happens;)

Bob Mitera said...

Marit - you nailed the Kona experience in these posts. While reading I got chills, felt the hills, heat and wind, and remembered what it is like. I'm going to print this out and save it. "Rough" or not... it is part of what reminds me of why I like to compete in these things. We all need that from time to time.

Good on you for passing near the line! I've always said, "I race to the line." Everyone should. If you have it in you, you race. If someone wants to blow kisses to the crowd, great. Just don't look at me cross eyed as I pass your kissy face toward the finish. It is opportunity / cost in action.

See you at the international races next year.

Angela and David Kidd said...

This was awesome. I loved reading it. It felt like I was there. But how the hell do you remember everything? I don't even remember what I did 10 minutes ago in that much detail.

And I totally would have raced to the finish as well. I think it's just how we are genetically programmed.

Ange said...

Ok...major memories and major tears here. Thanks for this Marit. GREAT JOB! you are one tough girl. short course watch out!

Alili said...

Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. THANK YOU for sharing this AWESOME journey. :)

Laura said...

I'm not sure how I missed that you had posted your run report. Thanks for sharing with us! Awesome job, and glad I finally got to see you at least for a minute on race day.

All the best in short course next season. :)

PJ said...

What an awesome report, Marit. I have read your blog over the last year or so but have never commented but after reading this, I feel compelled.

What an amazing year you've had and what a great for it to culminate. Thanks for posting your experiences along the way as I've really enjoyed following.

Oh, and this has to be one of the best quips I've read in awhile...."Do you ever want to shake your head and then give your younger self a hug?" ALL THE TIME! :)

Congrats, again, and I can't wait to read about your short course exploits (if that is, in fact, the direction you head) next year.

-Patricia

Jane said...

Hi Marit!
My name is Jane and I'm with Dwellable.
I was looking for blog posts about Kona Makai to share on our site and I came across your post...Your blog is very inspiring! I'd love to share it...
If you're open to it, drop me a line at jane(at)dwellable(dot)com.
Hope to hear from you :)
Jane