Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Ironman Canada Race Report--A Gut-Wrenching Experience

Pre-Pre Race:
The Calm Before the Storm

--arriving at the race site at Okanagan Lake in Penticton.

--the entire town provided undying support for the athletes.

--hanging out at the infamous Peach.

--feeling calm and collected days before the race.
Little did I know what I had in store for me.
The alarm blared at 4:00 am. I bolted upright in bed, shaking my hands. I had been dreaming that parasitic worms were bursting out of my forearms. Not a good omen. My stomach instantly began to churn. My stomach normally feels nasty in the morning and pre-race nerves don’t help but this wasn’t normal. Something was wrong. Acid poured into my stomach, making it feel like it was on fire. My guts twisted and cramped. Something was very wrong. I took my usual morning Prilosec and tried in vain to eat breakfast. I knew if I could eat, I would feel better. But I couldn’t. Each bite was torture, sending waves of nausea through my body, and I struggled not to vomit. I got down a banana. A single measly banana. Then, I lay on the bed, trying to soothe my stomach. At 5:00 am, my stomach was not improved. But it was time to go.

Halfway to the race site, I made Brent turn the car around. I needed a bathroom. Like yesterday. I made it back to the hotel bathroom. I popped an Immodium and sat on the edge of the bed with my head between my hands, tears rolling down my cheeks. This was beyond nerves, beyond a simple IBS flare-up. I had a stomach bug. How on earth was I going to do an Ironman like this?

Brent kept telling me I would feel better once I started. Maybe he was right. I desperately wanted to believe he was right. But I had a sinking feeling. I knew my stomach too well. I checked in my Special Needs Bags, walking slowly to quell the waves of nausea passing through me. I pumped my tires and lay down by my bike, trying to settle my stomach, trying not to vomit. A very sweet girl asked if I was okay. “Is this your first one?” I got that a lot that morning. Everyone though I had pre-race nerves. Yeah, I was nervous. Nervous about doing an Ironman with a stomach bug!

I slowly slipped into my wetsuit, kissed Brent goodbye, and waded into Okanagan Lake. I prayed I didn’t end up in the medical tent or worse. My stomach felt like I had swallowed a switchblade, and my body was very weak and tired. I was sick. I wanted so much to enjoy my race. The whole town had come out to support the race. Shops and stores had been open late, giving discounts to Ironman athletes on the days leading up to the race. The town had even put on an Ironman Street Fair. The course was amazingly beautiful, and the lake was crisp and clean. It seemed like so much fun. I mourned, knowing I would be exempt from any fun that day. I would be racing with a monkey on my back. Except it was more like I had eaten the monkey and it was trying to claw its way out of my bowels with tooth and claw. I thought about all the training I had done. How hard I had worked to get here. I had to at least start.

I listened to a beautiful siren voice singing the Canadian national anthem. Momentarily, my stomach was soothed. I seeded myself to the back, left-hand side of the start on the shore of Okanagan Lake. The water was crystal clear and tasted as fresh as spring water. The temperature was a perfect 68 degrees. As the clock counted down to 0, I got chills. Here goes nothing, I thought. The gun went off, and I began my 2nd Ironman in Penticton, Canada with a stomach bug.

We waded into the lake until it was deep enough to swim. The bubble of athletes surrounding me was courteous and friendly. I had seeded myself just right. The faster, more aggressive athletes had already departed, leaving a strong, favorable wake behind, ready to pull us slower athletes forward and give us a helping hand. We started swimming, and I relaxed. I felt comfortable and smooth. I barely had to exert any effort to slip along in the water. I counted to 10, sighted, switch sides, counted to 10, sighted, switched sides. The monotony of these motions calmed and soothed me, putting me into a meditative rhythm. The buoys flew by. I reached the turn-around and became a little disoriented by the absence of the usual, large, triangular, yellow buoy I’m accustomed to. In its place was a small, round, orange buoy, identical to all the others. Turn here? Here? What about here? I relied on the other athletes around me to guide me. Although sighting off only one other swimmer is a bad idea, sighting off 20 to 30 swimmers is actually very useful.

Finally, I made the final turn and began the long stretch back to shore. About 1 mile left to go. Not once, did I wonder my usual, panicked, How much further? Are we there yet? Are we there yet!? I was now swimming directly east, and the rising sun was blinding. Luckily, I was wearing tinted goggles and was able to use two, tall towers directly behind shore, an ideal landmark. Unfortunately, my stomach was beginning to remind me that it was still sick. Each time I briefly lifted my head to sight, it lurched and cramped. I decided to rely on the swimmers to each side of me to avoid sighting. As long as I kept my head down and maintained my easy, relaxed rhythm, my stomach was mostly quiet. The inferno in my belly was reduced to hot embers. I passed the final buoy and headed into the beach. I trotted out of the water, undoing my wetsuit, and smiled when I saw my time, 1:22, a minute faster than my first Ironman.
--2600 athletes line up at the start of Okanagan Lake.
--the gun goes off and the athletes, like soldiers, march into battle.
--the 2.4 mile swim is underway in the clear, clean waters.

--me in the pink cap finished with the swim.
This would be the best part of my entire day.
--Brent--my support crew, my photographer, my undying support, my angel, and my love. Thank you for everything. I couldn't have done it without you.
I sat on the ground before a wetsuit stripper, and she easily got my wetsuit off with one strong tug. Grabbing my bag, I trotted to the changing tent. Inside, it was packed, and I had to search for an open seat in the back. Instantly, I began munching on a PB&J, trying to make up for my missed breakfast. The swim had made me a little hungry, and the sandwich felt good inside my churning tummy, sopping up some of the acid. For a few brief moments, I had delusions of grandeur of being able to finish the rest of the race with a calm, sedated tummy. Although I didn’t feel like I was hurrying or rushing, I must have been pretty efficient. I was out of T1 and on my bike in 7 minutes, about 50 seconds faster than last year.

The Bike:

I hesitate to even write this section as just thinking about it makes my stomach churn, even several days later. Do I really want to relive the most miserable 7+ hours of my life? The first 40 miles were flat and fast. These were the best moments of the entire bike that day. I climbed up the short, steep hill on McLean Rd about 10 miles into the bike. It felt good to get out of the saddle and stretch my legs. I hunkered back into my aerobars and flew down the descent before zooming down the flat road past Skaha Lake. I would have normally enjoyed the free speed but the bent over aero position was causing my stomach to cramp.

The course was gorgeous, lined with apple, peach, and cherry orchards, vineyards, cattle, and horses. Gentle hills rolled through the valley, surrounded by massive, rocky mountains. Although there were many beautiful streams and lakes and the valley was green, the surrounding area was dry and brown. The air was extremely arid, making the temperatures seem deceivingly cool.
--The course was devastatingly beautiful. I wish I could have enjoyed it.
--Vineyards in the valley on the bike course in Okanagan Valley.
--Dry rolling hillsides and mountains surrounded the bike course.

The acid began creeping back into my stomach so I instantly popped 2 Tums. Knowing the beginning of the bike would be the best opportunity to get food into my depleted system, I finished the rest of my PB&J, ate a few Cliff Blocks, and nibbled on a Cliff Nectar Bar, downing it with copious amounts of water. I tried, in vain, to drink my InfinIT sports drink, upon which I normally depend on for 90% of my calories and electrolytes when racing. Each sip caused my stomach to lurch revoltingly, threatening to empty its contents. When one of my bottles fell off my bike as I went over a bump, I didn’t even pause. Good riddance. I decided right then and there I wouldn’t drink another drop of InfinIT the rest of the day.

Finally, around mile 40, I turned west in Osoyoos and began the long climb up Richter Pass. Since I had driven the course the day before and been warned about the climb by many, I was more than ready. In all honesty, the hill itself wasn’t that bad. As I began climbing, I sat up in the hoods of my tri bike, giving my cramping, burning stomach some relief. I didn’t care about my speed and allowed my weak body to slowly spin up the hill. Spectators lined the entire road, cheering us on. Some danced as they blared music from portable stereos. Many were wearing colorful costumes and wigs. I paused to read the signs they held. My favorite was “It Beats Working!”. At that point, I agreed. I chatted with the other athletes around me, breaking up the monotony of the long day. Richter Pass felt good. It gave me something to focus on other than my stomach.
--still able to fake a smile for the camera up Richter.

Finally, I reached the long descent on the other side. My bladder was very full but it wasn’t because I was well hydrated. Unfortunately, all the stomach medicine I had been taking has significant diuretic side effects. As I rushed down the other side of Richter in my aerobars at 38 mph, I peed profusely in my shorts, on the bike. It was nasty and disgusting but I didn’t care. I couldn’t make it to the aid station. Besides, the stomach meds were making me have to pee A LOT. I simply couldn’t justify stopping to get off and pee every 10 minutes. I must have peed 8-10 times on the bike that day. I didn’t care. If the meds made my stomach feel better, I would take excessive peeing over an upset stomach any day.

I proceeded up the many rollers between Richter and Cawston. Everything is a blur. I went numb, trying to block out the pain of my cramping stomach. I felt my ailing body become progressively weaker and more fatigued. I vaguely remember feeling hot. It was 93 degrees out there, afterall. I seem to remember a building headwind as well, as I proceeded northwest. My calves began cramping slightly and a building headache alerted me that I was becoming dangerously dehydrated. I began popping salt pills. I had been drinking only water and desperately needed the electrolytes. I was able to slightly dig myself out of the trench I was falling into. Not being able to consume any of my pre-planned race food, I began gobbling bananas. They were the only thing I could keep down. They felt wonderful on my stomach, a small bucket of water on the raging flames, and I was blessed with a few minutes of quiet and peace.

In Cawston, I finally reached the 7 mile out-and-back, leading to Special Needs at mile 75. I was glad I knew ahead of time it would take 7 miles to get there. It stretched on for an eternity. I became increasingly more despondent as my stomach became progressively worse, the temperatures rose, and the headwind strengthened. Brent cheered me on, during this particularly difficult section. I grimaced as he snapped my picture. I wanted to tell him how miserable I felt. How much I was suffering. How sick I was. That I wasn’t sure I could finish. That I no longer wanted to do this. But I couldn’t get the words out. I was too sick even to speak.
--suffering in Cawston up a small roller.

I made it to Special Needs. The volunteer tried to put new, cold bottle of InfinIT on my bike but I refused. Simply glancing at the bottle of InfinIT triggered my gag reflex. I tried to get down some a bar but it just wouldn’t go down. Finally, I found my secret stash of gummy worms. I cautiously chewed on one. Yummy. I had found something palatable. Sucking on gummy worms, I kept pedaling, making the long, slow stretch to Keremos, the base of Yellow Lake.

I was now hunched over in my aerobars on an endless false flat, pedaling into a strong headwind as the heat rose into the 90s. My stomach churned, lurched, and cramped with stabbing, bloated pain. I felt like I had swallowed a balloon and someone kept pumping air into it. Below and above the balloons, sharp blades stabbed my gut with every weak pedal stroke. On top of this, waves of nausea racked my body. Was this hell?

I heard lots of things about the bike course that day. They said the bike course was very pretty. That it was hilly. Hot. Windy. I don’t really remember any of those things. I vaguely remember some heat and wind. I don’t remember the hills at all. I don’t remember the scenery whatsoever. It’s like asking Mrs. Lincoln how the play was. All I could stare at was the white line ahead of my front wheel. I couldn’t focus on anything external. I wish I could have focused on the hills or the wind, anything outside of the internal war going on in my stomach and then in my head. I vaguely remember my head hurting from dehydration. My neck and shoulders aching from being locked in the aero position hour after hour. My right foot throbbing inside a too-tight shoe. But all these sensations paled in comparison to the blinding, all-consuming wretched pain in my gut.

I finally reached the base of Yellow Lake at mile 94. Brent was there again, and I blurted out how sick I was to him. He just kept urging me on. He believed in me. More than I believed in myself. I was consumed with doubt. Spectators cheered me on up the hill. Even though I looked like death, they all lied and told me I looked fantastic, cheering me on more enthusiastically than the others. I saw the same signs from the same spectators I had seen early on Richter Pass. This time, when I saw, “It Beats Working!”, I silently disagreed. At that moment, I would have preferred a root canal. As I crawled up the long, slow, gradual ascent to the top of Yellow Lake, the air became thick with smoke. Wildfires were burning nearby, making the air hot and ashy. Consumed gut-wrenching agony, I barely noticed.

--Yellow Lake. The water is actually yellow. Like piss? Vomit?
--suffering at a crawl up Yellow Lake.

Somewhere between the climb up to Yellow Lake and then the 2nd torturous climb up to Twin Lakes (which no one bothered to warn me about, and I had conveniently forgotten), I decided to drop out. I was finished. It just wasn’t worth it anymore. I was going to quit. Tears rolled silently down my cheeks as I grieved the loss of my race. I felt like I was mourning a death. I cried about the medal I would never earn, the jersey I would never wear, and the finisher’s shirt I would never receive. I cried over the months and months of training, the planning, the inordinate cost to get here, and all the mental preparation that had gone into this race. I cried because I felt like a failure. I felt embarrassed and ashamed. But I was just too far gone at that point for any of those things to matter. I was done. I was surrendering.

--in my own private hell crawling to Twin Lakes at mile 97.

I reached the final aid station and stopped to down some more bananas. I must have had 8 bananas that day. Honestly, I don’t ever want to see another banana in my life. I lamented to a volunteer about my misery. He offered me a chair. I refused. I knew if I sat down, it would be over. I guess I’m not very good at quitting. I pedaled on.

I dug deeper than I ever have before over those last 12 miles. They had said the last 12 miles were all downhill. That I wouldn’t have to take a single pedal stroke. As I weakly struggled up some more false flats and rollers into a strong headwind, I realized they had lied. I had been deceived. I faced my ugliest, most inner demons on those last 12 miles. I had been warned that I would ask myself during an Ironman, “Why the hell am I doing this?” but I had naively scoffed. I wasn’t going to ask myself that. I didn’t need to. I loved Ironmans. I had passion. It was my spiritual journey. My metaphor for life. Now here I was asking myself, “Is this really worth it? All this suffering?” All of those rational reasons for doing it that sounded good on paper simply rang hollow during my darkest hour. I couldn’t seem to come up with a reason to continue. I ached to lie down and sleep. To return to my hotel where a shower and clean bed awaited. My sick body was weak and exhausted. I had felt like that from the moment I had awoken and it had grown exponentially worse throughout the day. I decided to ride into T2 and quit.

I focused on just finishing the bike after that. Making it back to the hotel where I could end the agony. I was numb and emotionless. I didn’t care anymore. Then, I would hit a descent and coast. My body would recover somewhat, my stomach settle. An unfamiliar feeling began to rise within: a glimmer of hope. Maybe I could do this. I asked myself again, “Why am I doing this?” I reasoned I wasn’t doing it because I had to. No one was forcing me. Obviously, I was doing this because I wanted to. The glimmer of hope rose. I was getting somewhere. “Why do I want to do this?” It certainly wasn’t about speed, although I realized I had begun this race with higher expectations. It was my 2nd Ironman. It seemed reasonable, especially given the horrid conditions of my first (IMAZ April ’08), to expect faster times. This expectation was a fatal flaw. Ironman was completely stripping me of all expectations and ego. I was soundly humbled. Today was just not my day. The Ironman gods had decided that this journey was going to be about something deeper, something much more personal and meaningful than superficial speed. I certainly had no choice in the matter. The only choice that lay before me was to continue and try to finish, or drop out. It was not a simple choice.

As I peeled back layer after layer, I realized I wanted to finish. My reason for doing this suddenly resounded loud and clear: because it makes me feel strong. Completing an Ironman makes me feel like a superhero. I’ve been accused for being weak and sickly because of my sensitive stomach my entire life. What better way to epitomize strength than to cross that finish line in spite of a full-blown stomach illness? Something hit a chord with me, and the lightbulb went on. I kept telling myself, “I am strong, I am strong,” all the way to Main Street. Suddenly, I had hope, and it was like an angel coming to rescue me from abject destitution. As long as I had hope, I could keep going.

On Main Street, the headwind became a full-force gale, and I was reduced to a pathetic crawl. The bike course overlapped the run course at this point, and I watched runners struggling in the marathon. My hope vanished like a flame being extinguished. Ugh. I did NOT want to do that! I instantly decided to quit again.
I reached T2 and limped into transition. My right foot had swollen up like a balloon, making it difficult to walk. I took off my bike shoes and wobbled across the timing mat. I felt like crap. Surely, a volunteer or medic will see how bad I looked and pull me off the course? I hoped. A volunteer grabbed my bike. Two more volunteers cheered me on, telling me I looked great. I became silently infuriated at the blatant lie but I was too exhausted to protest. Another volunteer led me to my bag and handed me off to another volunteer, who directed me to the changing tent. Okay, I’ll sit down in the changing tent and think this over, I thought, knowing full well I was going to convince myself to drop out. I never had the opportunity. A sixth volunteer changed me and a seventh shoved me out onto the running course. If the volunteers in T2 had not been so encouraging, efficient and downright spectacular, I would have never continued.

Dazed, I trotted along the first few miles of the run course. How the hell did I get here? I wondered. I thought I was going to drop out! Now that I was on the run course, I figured I could at least try to keep going. After a long day of nothing but bananas and gummy worms, I looked forward to the aid stations on the run. They would be fully stocked with cola, chicken broth, and pretzels. Maybe I could catch up on some calories, fluids, and electrolytes while settling my stomach? The hope rose again.

As I ran, my stomach lurched with each footstep. I felt like I had swallowed a machete and the blade was cutting deeper and deeper with each footstep. I began walking. I focused on reaching Brent, who was waiting at mile 4. I’ll get to Brent at mile 4, tell him how bad I feel, and he’ll pull me off the course. He’ll stop me. He doesn’t want to see me suffer like this, I hoped. Thankfully, he hadn’t been waiting in T2. If he had been, I’m almost certain I would have dropped out that day.

I must have gone numb because mile 4 came very quickly. Brent kept trying to snap my picture. I yelled at him vehemently, “Don’t you dare!” I didn’t want documentation to remind me of the pain I was in. I began venting my frustrations and despair, “I’m completely miserable. I have a stomach bug and can’t eat or drinking anything. This sucks! I HATE this! I’m NEVER doing this AGAIN!!!”
“Okay. I’ll see you at the turn-around. You’re doing great, baby! You can do it!” And Brent was gone. What?! The turn-around? Mile 13? Had he not heard me? But I’m miserable! Well, I better keep going, I reasoned.

I kept sipping on cola and chicken broth while nibbling grapes and pretzels at the aid stations. My stomach was still grossly bloated and on fire but the nausea had passed. I had maxed out on all the stomach medicine I could safely take in one day, including: 1 Prilosec, 2 Immodium, 2 GasX, 2 Pepcid, 6 BeanO, 8 Tums, and a partridge in a pear tree. The chicken broth and cola seemed to be helping more than the drugs. Plus, my stomach clearly preferred the upright position of walking to the hunched over aero position on the bike. I found walking actually helped to settle my stomach a little. Running, on the other hand, was simple and utter agony.

I fell into a run-walk rhythm and focused on breaking down the marathon course, mile by mile. My attitude began to shift, and I became more positive. Hope rose. “I’m strong, I’m strong,” I told myself, “I can do this. I want to finish. I want to finish.” As I walk/ran along Skaha Lake, my mind became soft and relaxed, and I settled into a rhythm. I chatted with other runners on the course, who were also in their own personal hell. We commiserated, each one of us trying to convince the other that our pain and agony was greater than the other. I learned a new life lesson: when selecting a strange running partner on a race course, be sure they are slower than you so that when (not if) they become annoying, you can tell them, “Have a good race! You’re doing great!” and trot off down the road.
--Running whenever I could.

--Walking when I must.
Note the smoke-filled air behind me covering Skaha Lake.
--Running through the pain, full grimace evident.

At each mile marker, I threw my arms into the air and cheered. “Mile 8!” I cried much to the annoyed grumbles of surrounding runners. I was thinking of each mile. They were thinking, “I still have 18.2 miles to go.” I did it again at mile 9 and some other runners joined in. So did the spectators. The spectators were fantastic. I waved and smiled and they returned the positive vibes tenfold, filling me with positive energy. I told each runner I passed, “Good job. Looking strong!” They always returned the favor. It made me feel better, even if just for a moment. A group of female spectators held up a male, plastic blow-up doll, clad in a skimpy bikini. I smiled a genuine, ear-to-ear smile that reached inside and out. It felt good to smile. They smiled and laughed.
“Want to give Stan a high-five?” they asked.
“Do I!” I replied, slapping Stan’s floppy arm.
I am eternally grateful to the wonderful support of the spectators. They were out there with us in the heat, wind and fire all day long, cheering us on with undying support. They held signs that read, “You’re an inspiration to us all” or “You are my HERO!”, and it just filled me with power. They all believed in me, even when I didn’t.
--giving Stan a high-five (courtesy of Tammy and her pals, among some of the wonderful spectators on the course. Here is their link with lots more awesome pics.)
--Stan the blow-up doll.
--Some other fabulous spectators. I just can't thank you enough!

I ran for a bit, passing some athletes and walked. Then they would pass me as they ran for a bit before they walked, and I passed them yet again. And so it went on and on like that for miles, until we all felt connected as if by a series of invisible rubber bands. There was a strong sense of camaraderie among us. None of us had an easy day. But all of us wanted to finish. I now wanted to finish desperately. I was still in pain but it had lessened. My lowest low had passed. It would be a long day, and I was exhausted but I wanted to finish.

I reached the halfway point. Brent was there waiting. He asked how I felt.
“I want to finish. It won’t be pretty but I think I can finish.”
“Of course you can finish,” he said. Encouraging me, he fueled me onward and sent me up the road. I was on the return home now. Only 13.1 miles left to go. Somehow, this made me feel better.

Daylight was fading fast. The smoke-filled air was building, irritating the lungs of many athletes around me. I was grateful only my stomach was upset. It was going to be a starless night. Something bright glowed through the ash in the sky. I peered carefully. It was a waxing, blood-red moon, veiled in smoke. It seemed ghastly and ominous.

When I walked now, I walked briskly. I marched. I had a mission. I walked with a purpose. “Way to fight it out!” one spectator cheered. I smiled at him. I was fighting. I felt like a soldier. I hadn’t trained to walk this far; I had trained to run. Muscles unaccustomed to this much walking cried out in pain. Unusual blisters formed on my feet. My hips ached, and my feet burned. I walked until the pain seared through my legs, and then I ran. I ran until waves of nausea rose through my body, and then I walked. I ran as much as I possibly could. It felt much better on my body to run than to walk. I focused on relaxing the stabbing feeling in my stomach, pretending it was just really sore from 1,000 sit-ups rather than intestinal spasms. It seemed to help numb the pain somewhat.

I picked an object up ahead on the road to run to: the lamppost, the mailbox, the stop sign. I ran to the landmark, telling myself I could stop and walk at that point if I needed to. Sometimes the pain in my gut became so bad, I stopped and walked. Sometimes, the pain subsided, and I picked another point further up the road to run to. I ran as much as I could. I walked when I had to. Sometimes I ran for ¼ mile and walked for 10 seconds before running again. Sometimes I walked for ¼ mile before attempting to run again. Sometimes, I ran as much as 1 entire mile before having to stop. I was making progress, slowly but surely.

At mile 21, Brent appeared again. I was still in good spirits but very, very tired. He walked with me for a bit. In my extreme state of fatigue, I felt very emotional.
“I’m going to make it!”
“Of course you are,” he replied.
“But I was going to drop out!”
“And now you’re going to finish. You’re going to finish your Ironman. I’ll see you at the finish!”
I marched onward. I noticed I was having a hard time focusing. I was very, very sleepy. My vision was blurred. Was I really weaving and having a hard time walking in a straight line, or was it just my imagination? My mind was playing tricks on me. My stomach was beginning to feel very upset again. How could this be? I was so close. I walked more and more. I didn’t want to push it and risk not finishing. At mile 24.5, I got diarrhea. Are you kidding me? Luckily, I was very close to the aid station and dashed into the Port-a-Potty. Only 1.5 miles to go, I told myself. After my stomach was through, I coaxed myself into a run. I was going to be able to run the last 1.5 miles. It felt wonderful to run.

The Finish:
I turned down Lakeshore and began the final 1K to the finish. I heard Steve King calling out finisher’s names. I began to get chills. I was going to finish! I was going to finish! Despite everything I had gone through, I was going to finish! I wasn’t going to drop out or quit. How was that possible? How did I get here? I was going to cross that finish line! I reflected over my long, torturous day and thought about how much I had gone through to get here. I silently thanked all the good fortune that had brought me to this moment—the enthusiastic spectators, the incredible aid offered by all the volunteers, the undying support from Brent. If it hadn’t been for them, I would most definitely have thrown in the towel.
Tears of joy rolled down my cheeks. I shook my head in disbelief. I couldn’t believe I was going to make it. I raised my arms over my head as I ran down the chute. The crowd screamed and cheered in an uproar. I was grinning wildly with unbridled happiness. I crossed the finish line and exuberantly grabbed the finishing tape and held it proudly over my head. I had done it! I had done an Ironman, despite being ill! My total time was 15:08. I didn’t really care. I’m very proud of one single thing…crossing that finish line. That single accomplishment was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life.
--crossing the finish line victoriously.

--watch me finish!
Brent helped me return to the hotel room where I had the most wonderful shower of my life. Funny how the simplest things are amazingly spectacular after an Ironman. Like a cool glass of water. I watched the athletes cross the finish line on t.v. until midnight. I got to see Sister Madonna cross the finish line a few minutes before midnight. She looked amazing. I watched 4 athletes sprint across, seconds before the cut-off. In the distance, I caught a glimpse of a few other athletes, struggling desperately to make it to the finish before midnight. The live feed cut out and the t.v. went blank. Tears welled up in my eyes. Those athletes had suffered out there for hours longer than I had. And they didn’t make it.
My 2nd Iron Journey was a very personal one. It was an internal struggle the entire way. I believe it was meant to be that way. I learned more about myself on that single, intense day than I ever have before. I battled my inner demons and was stripped to my very core. I will never again assume that finishing an Ironman is in the bag. You never know what kind of conditions you’ll have on race day, or how you will feel. Nothing is certain. Oh, and, yes, I’m doing another one. Ironman Utah, May, 2010.

--the day after with the most-awesome Brent and me, donning my well-earned shwag.


Nicole said...

That was an awesome recap! I almost cried at the end! I'm so glad that you made it! ;)

cz said...

Holy cow!!! I AM crying at the end, and at several points throughout. I am simply an irongirl - a mom of 5 who has done a few sprints. I hope someday to complete a 70.3 but I honestly do not think a full ironman is ever in my future. You are such an incredible inspiration. I have read your blog since IMAZ and eagerly awaited your Canada RR. When you said you were going to quit, I started bawling. I can not beleive you made it to the end, and even though I do not really know you, I am as proud of you as I am of my own children. You ROCK, girl! Congratulations. I wish you a speedy recovery, and can not wait to continue along this journey with you to Utah in 2010!

Diana said...

As a fellow IBS sufferer, I felt EVERY descriptive pain quiver through my GI tract. OMG, how you made it through that is incredible. That is a huge personal feat. The inner spirit of a person is truly amazing. We know what we want and no matter what it is that tries to stop us, we continue. We "make it happen" because that's what we want and won't except anything less!
Great job, truly inspirational!!!
As painful as it was, your report was still worth the wait! :-)

Krista said...

What an incredible race recap. I'm too overwhelmed for words right now. You are amazing.

Trey said...

I can't express how amazing it was to read this. I (as well as every other Tri-er) could feel every jerk of pain as I read this and also share in the joy of your finish. AMAZING is the only word for it.

Renee said...

You are a rock star. Seriously amazing and I am so glad you went on to finish even though you wanted so badly to quit. Can't wait to hear all about the next one!

bunnygirl said...

Wow, that's got to be one of the most amazing race reports I've ever read. GI makes or breaks you in these long distances.

Congrats on your well-deserved bragging rights!

Wes said...

Awww, Rachel! I gotz tears and smiles and my chest is pumping with pride.... Well done, chica!!! You are indeed, so, so strong. Congratulations.

don said...

Good for you Rachel! Hanging in there on such a tough day.
See you again at IM St. George!

Anonymous said...

Incredible story. That's a real inspiration for all of us. Fantastic job pushing yourself through!

Shawn said...

Thanks so much for sharing. The way you pulled yourself through this race is truly inspiring. And you are blessed to have Brent to help you! Congrats again on your 2nd Ironman! It Beats Working!

Erin Nicole said...

Beautiful Rachel. Congratulations. Tears here too...

Leah said...

Wow, I can't believe you finished under those circumstances! I'm in awe. Congrats!

Jonathan said...

Spectacular! After following your blog for some time, I was sure you didnt have quitting in you. Great Job!

Dana said...

wow, you're awesome. your story moved me to tears! i salute you, your inner strength and control. you rule!

(from a fellow woman triathlete who is a little jitty 'cause she's about to race her first olympic distance in two days' time).

Caitlin said...

Amazing job Rachel!! I competed and crossed the finish line to my first triathlon the same day you finished the Ironman. You're blog has been inspirational and very helpful. I know it was hard but you finished! A 2x Ironman! Congratulations! Amazing job.

Kate said...

My goodness Rachel, you are amazing! I can't wait to watch you take on Utah!

Grey Beard said...

The last thing I said to you before you left was "don't beat yourself". I said it because all competitors face the same external conditions, but only you face your inner race.

Far from beating yourself, it was your absolute refusal to be beaten that was your amazing victory. A most excellent performance! I am so very proud of you Rachel. >:D<

RoadBunner said...

What a spectacular race report about a very tough race. You should be so so proud of yourself! Seems like an Ironman is like a marathon blown up 100x. Can't imagine having those doubts with such a long, long way to go. You are totally right. This finish should rank right up there with any goal-time finish. Endurance events have a huge mental aspect and you've proven to yourself you've got what it takes. Congratulations!!!!

Jack said...

Your report has me speechless, you are incredible, congratulations a hundred times over! As I enter the strange world of Triathlon next year I will carry the memory of your struggle and amazing victory with me, you rock!

Christine said...

So funny, when I got your comment on my shark dinner I was in the middle of reading this race report!

I ditto all of the other commenters- this is an incredible account (and wonderfully written) of struggle and perseverance. I can't imagine pushing through such suffering and pain to accomplish something so monumental as a second Ironman. Hope you have been living and loving the glory of being a superhero!

Congrats on the Ironman, I am so glad to have stumbled across this blog! You'll definitely be an inspiration if (when) I get into triathlons!

lfar said...

As always, your race reports are super inspiring. You really capture the meaning of endurance.

Rainmaker said...

Hey congrats!

It was good to shout out to ya, if only for a brief second during the run.

Btw, I was just looking at all your races - you've got an amazingly busy schedule - seriously cool races in there.

Sherry said...

Rachel, you are just simply amazing. All heart! You have me all misty-eyed right now.

I stalked you on race day just to make sure that you were a-ok, but being that I've been a 'poor' blogger lately, I had NO IDEA what an ordeal you went through out there. Good Lord! Amazing stuff!

Way to go... on #2, girl!!! Woo-hoo!!!!

Alisa said...

One word: wow! Reading this report, especially the end, made my eyes all watery. What a struggle, what perserverance, what determination...what a freakin' inspiration!

I hope you are still walking around in that schwag with your medal on--you finished and deserve to be proud!

Heather said...

Congrats Rachel!! It's hard to predict what will happen on any given race day and I can only imagine what it's like to have stomach issues like that. I have only ever been afflicted with mild problems and the discomfort was brutal! Good on you for pushing through it, because that's the real test if you ask me. It's not just about pushing your body hard but about pushing your mind past the point of doubt. I love how detailed your race report was; my boyfriends' reports are the same. I'm a horrible writer ;). I can't wait to do another Ironman. Now the pressure is really on. Aside from some minor stomach issues on the run at IMC, brought on mostly because I became an aid station glutton, I felt I had a pretty good race. It will be really difficult to improve, but that's the goal. For now I look forward to getting back into running to prepare for the half marathon in Vegas. Do you do that race? I hope you're enjoying your recovery.

jeanne said...

wow, what an inspiration! Jack sent me here, after he read my whiny blog post about my upcoming Oly, which I want to drop out of before it starts!

You are truly amazing. What a journey!

Kevin said...

OMG! Your report was very inspirational. I think I will read it several times between now and my first IM in November

Ordinarylife said...


You are a true Ironman.

Anonymous said...

that is amazing. i totally feel you on how you had to find a landmark to run through.

you are a great inspirational rolemodel to me! WOWZA!

Xavi Garcia said...


I am impressed...Iron"woman"...I will try to finih my first HIM in Singapore next March ...and for me is already a big challenge!!

You are incredible!

"XTB" Xavi. from Hong Kong!

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Noel said...

Great race report!
I'm in your swim picture. I'm to the right in the yellow/blue Bike Barn jersey. I finished in 15:08:13, so we must have leapfrogged each other all day.

Ironman isn't easy. No matter your training, it's HARD. And usually does NOT go the way you planned. It's all about how you manage the adversity that confronts you. You were down for the count many times, but your IRON spirit got you back up, and willed you across the finish line. Simply awesome!!

Good luck this year, and hope to see you in Canada again. (2010 will be my 12th IMC in a row)

Kobe said...

People who participate in this event should have an incredible training, because is not easy to make all the routine. I practiced at viagra online Gym just to go at this event, and at the end I couldn't assist.

Esther said...

I stumbled upon your blog when looking for a little bit of first time tri-inspiration. And I read this whole report with tears in my eyes.

Absolutely incredible. If you can do that, you can do anything.

I am 100% inspired and encouraged! Thank you! From a first time Tri-er Mum of 3 kids under 5 in the UK.