Friday, May 14, 2010

Ironman Utah Shout Out!

I couldn't have done it without you guys. One person may cross the finish line of an Ironman but for every athlete, there's an invisible army carrying her along the 140.6 miles. I want to thank those who helped me the most.

1. The people of St. George.
You guys did a rockin' job! Amazing for a debut race year. It felt like this race has been going on for a decade. The city was friendly, easy to navigate, safe, and clean. The volunteers gave me tons of enthusiasm and support in my darkest miles. The spectators had amazing energy. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I wouldn't have had such a fantastic time without your support!

2. The Triathlon Club of San Diego (
I'm proud to be a member of the best triathlon club in the country (also the largest and the oldest). You guys are like family. I have invaluable training resources and training buddies as well as infinite workouts through this club. At least 60 of us went to St. George and it was fantastic training, racing, and celebrating with you guys. You're the best!

3. UCSD Masters (
One of the best masters programs in the country. Sickie and Terry are coaches I trust dearly. They make swimming challenging and fun. Thank you for helping me with my stroke and inspiring me to fall in love with swimming. I love all my swim buddies during each workout. You guys are awesome!

4. My Training Buddies.
There are so many of you to thank, I can't even begin to count. We shared hellish miles on the bike together. Countless pints of blood, sweat, and tears and post-ride meals. War stories. Fear and excitement in anticipation of St. George. Thank you for motivating me to get out of bed and ride at the crack of dawn every Saturday. Thank you for encouraging me to go just one more mile, just one more hill. I don't think I'll be doing the Great Western Loop anytime soon for right now but I owe my success in St. George to you guys.

5. B&L Bikes ( in Solana Beach.
The best bike shop for triathletes, hands-down. Your customer service is second-to-none. Dan-O can fix anything and fit anyone! Hope you guys liked the brownies!

6. Jennifer Janis, acupuncturist.
Not only is she an amazing healer but she's also full of positive, motivating energy. I'm always beaming when I leave her place. Thank you for your healing skills and encouraging words. (Also, all your ultrarunning tips!). You're a valuable mentor.

7. Jacyln Hannibal, massage therapit (Elite Bodyworkers
You have magical hands! I wouldn't have stayed injury-free or been able to recover from all of my hard workouts without you!

8. My blogger friends.
You guys keep me honest and always believe in me. Thank you for all your motivation, advice, and kind words. You guys are amazing!

9. My friends and family
Last but not least. Thank you for your unconditional, undying support. You guys always believe in me.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

What I Did After Ironman Utah--Zion

I couldn't return home without a visit to Zion, only 40 minutes from St. George. It was more of a Zion "preview" since all I could manage was stumbling around on a gentle trail with the camera. I can't wait to go back. Enjoy the photo post!

Episode 1--Stan and Balloons vs. Segway Cop

"Where do I go from here?" Stan wonders.

"That's really harshing my mellow," says Stan's entourage.

Baton Bob and Pink Man have an idea.

"Uh-oh. There's trouble," says Stan.
"Never fear. Follow me!" shouts Baton Bob with glee.

Stan, Balloons, and Friends = 1.
Segway Cop = 0.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Ironman St. George--Third Time's A Charm

I lined up in the chute with 2500 athletes, teeth chattering, more with anxiety than with cold. Secretly, I was relieved to use the chilly morning air as an excuse for my uncontrollable shaking. Doubt welled within me. I didn’t train hard enough. I didn’t prepare enough. I wasn’t ready. The water was too cold. What if I didn’t want it enough? Could I endure the pain and suffering?

--lining up before the start, teeth chattering

My previous 2 Ironmans had subjected me to such immense anguish, I wasn’t sure I could withstand it again. Ironman Arizona had been 103 degrees and 37 mph winds, resulting in the 3rd highest DNF in Ironman history and the most suffering I had ever endured…until my 2nd Ironman. Ironman Canada 2009 was hard enough with a hilly bike, 93 degree temps and raging wildfires. However, finishing that Ironman with a stomach flu left me so depleted that I began to fear suffering in future Ironmans. I desperately needed redemption.

--Sand Hollow Reservoir, the quiet before the storm.

Ironman St. George, only 8 months later, wasn’t shaping up to be a forgiving race. The bike and run course were incredibly hilly, the weather extremely unpredictable, except I could depend on strong winds, and the freezing cold water. Not a promising sign for someone who has avoided the Cove-Pier-Cove swim (3 mi ocean swim in La Jolla) ever since almost succumbing to hypothermia last July. Indeed, simply training for this Ironman had been challenging as I warded off impending burn-out, creeping slowly around the mental edges of my workouts. I hadn’t followed my training plan very closely. I skipped workouts. I was undertrained for the bike, and I knew it. Was it a blessing in disguise? Had I been overtrained for the last 2? Maybe less was really more. I had heard the old saying, “It’s better to be 10% undertrained than 1% overtrained,” as well as, “If you’re undertrained, you may not finish, but if you’re overtrained, you may not start.” Was this true, or wishful thinking? I had intentionally decided to experiment with my training, using myself as a guinea pig. I had overtrained previously, something that comes naturally with my triple-type A personality. What would happen if I relaxed the training a bit? I was about to find out. All I wanted for St. George was to finish. I had not a care in the world as to how long it took me, as long as I could finish before they pulled me, kicking and screaming, from the course.

With less than T-5 minutes, I took several sharp breaths and plunged into the icy cold waters in the Sand Hollow Reservoir. It must have been 53-degrees; the freezing water burned my face. I gave up and swam water-polo style to the start, head out of the water. I hadn’t prepared like I normally do for an A race. I knew the course was a counterclockwise rectangle but, having forgone a swim preview, I couldn’t orient myself in the direction of where we would even begin to swim. I shook my head in disbelief. I was totally winging this Ironman. Who “wings” an Ironman? Not a settling feeling. As I was still swiveling my head to-and-fro, mind full of ricocheting thoughts “How many people still need to get in? Where do we begin? Where are the buoys? Do we swim behind or in front of that big red rock? How many people are already in the water? Where should I position myself? What’s the best strategy for this? God, this water is COLD!”. Without warning, the cannon exploded with a sudden BOOM, silencing the thoughts in my head. Relief washed over me. The time for nervousness and anxiety was over. My Ironman had begun.

The gun goes off and everthing changes... the world changes... and nothing else really matters. --Patti Sue Plummer

--2500 athletes braving themselves to enter the freezing cold water.

--And so it begins...

--Swim Start

I swam with my head out of the water for the first several minutes, trying to find a clear path to swim, trying to eliminate the searing pain in my face, waiting to go numb. I was relieved I had donned a rashguard under my wetsuit, Neoprene cap under my race cap, earplugs, and booties. I needed all the warmth I could get. Maybe I had seeded myself well or maybe the normal aggression of the other athletes had been sapped by the icy waters. Nonetheless, it was the least contact I’ve ever experienced during an Ironman swim. There was occasional jostling or bumping from another disoriented swimmer but none of the normal kicking, punching, grabbing, pulling, or attempted drowning I’m accustomed to. I focused on swimming from buoy to buoy and nothing more.

We reached the first red buoy and turned left. Disorientation began. I had a hard time locating the buoys and finding a line of sight to swim towards. Mild panic rose in my throat. Where do I go? Where is it? Where? Finally, I forced my head down (Stop sighting every stroke, Rachel!) and swam amongst a group of swimmers. With bodies of black shiny wetsuits on every side of me, like a pack of seals, I let the other athletes guide me to the next turn. This seemed to take forever. Finally, we turned left again and began the swimming back towards the start. I began to relax. I felt my body loosen up. My stroke lengthened and my speed picked up. After a mile of swimming, I was finally warming up.

Thanks to all my gear, I was not cold, only slightly uncomfortable. My breath began to increase sharply. I thought perhaps it was the cold water, refusing to acknowledge the truth; it was the altitude. I would accept that truth as the day progressed. Because of my stubborn refusal to study the swim course accurately, I continuously had to correct my direction. I failed to recognize that the swim rectangle was at an angle relative to the shore, believing instead, that it was parallel. It took me forever to figure out why there were no swimmers to my right and why the buoys were so far to my left. I repeatedly adjusted, turning, turning, turning back towards the buoys. I couldn’t seem to find a straight line to follow. I must have added an extra half-mile. Not sure if the disorientation was lack of preparation beforehand or physiological confusion from the freezing cold water (or both). Regardless, the swim left me completely befuddled.

I swam past a large red rock, protruding from the center of the reservoir like an iceberg. I found the rock mildly entertaining, much akin to an obstacle course, breaking up the monotony of an endless body of water. I reached the final turn and began heading towards the boat ramp. However, I was totally confused; I kept second-guessing myself. This is the end! Almost there, almost there! Wait. Is this the end? Where is the end? Is there another turn? Where do I go? Where is it? Where is it? Ugh, I have to swim more? How much more? Luckily, it was the final turn and when I finally actualized the athletes leaving the water and shuffling up the chute, immense relief washed over me. I couldn’t wait to get warm and regain mental clarity again.

--happy to be exiting the swim.

T2—Uncomfortably Numb
I struggled to dry myself off, desperately wanting to rid myself of the icy cold droplets clinging to my hair and skin. I pulled my shorts over my damp skin, not an easy task on a warm day. This was made even more challenging by useless fingers, that felt like tiny blocks of wood. I couldn’t feel my toes either. I struggled and struggled to put on my jersey. Finally, a volunteer came over and swiftly dressed me with skill. Still feeling foggy and confused, she insisted on arm warmers, gloves, and a vest, despite my mild protests. I’m so accustomed to insanely hot Ironmans, I was still in disbelief that it was only going to be in the mid-60s. Finally, I shuffled out to receive Torch and mounted slowly, urging my legs to begin pedaling. Although I hadn’t been cold in the water, once the arid air touched my skin, my internal thermostat began protesting severely. Blue-lipped and numb, I looked forward to warming up on the hills on the bike course.
Bike—Conquering Demons
I headed out of T2, spinning wildly to try and thaw the toes I swore had been there earlier that day. I struggled to shove my PB&J down my throat. I was starving. However, I was breathing in shallow, rapid breaths due to the altitude. San Diego may be the mecca of all things triathlon but it’s certainly not very advantageous living at sea level 365 days a year. That must be why all the pros train in Boulder.
--Onto the bike!
The first, long hill appeared, only a few miles out of the gate. I was relieved. It was a chance to warm up, slow down, spin, and eat. And eat I did. The weather was only in the low 60s with a brisk breeze, making it very conducive for simultaneous biking and feeding. I loved it. In previous races, I had followed a very structured nutrition plan, eating and drinking a specified formula every 10 minutes, like clockwork, whether I felt like it or not. In both prior races, I had gut issues (although IMAZ was 100+ degrees and everyone’s stomach hurt, and IMC I had a bug so who knows). Why not try something new for IMUT? I decided to wing it ("Winging It" being a continuous theme for this Ironman). I had trained off yummy foods, eating and drinking when and where I felt like it. Today, I raced like I trained. Hmmm, hadn’t I heard that one before? I can be quite stubborn sometimes. I had packed 2 PB&Js, Snickers, trail mix, oatmeal raisin cookies, pretzels, Red Vines, gummy worms, and some Cliff Blocks and my InfinIT sports drink. At the aid stations, I noshed on bananas and refilled my aero bottle with water. I decided to eat a hodgepodge of everything. It was delicious, and I felt great. I also stashed a baggie with salt pills, Immodium, Tums, Pepcid and Ibuprofen in my vest pocket (luckily, all I would need that day were salt pills and 2 Ibuprofen; glorious!). I was relieved the weather was chilly enough to force a vest over my jersey…more pockets! Plus, I could forgo the dreaded Bento Box, which is basically a fanny pack for the bike. A fellow athlete heard about all the food I was hauling; I was like a moving aid station. “You’re like a liquor store!” he commented. Yeah, except I forgot the liquor!
--Food packed for my Ironman.

I felt great and was settling in nicely. I couldn’t wait to get the first 20 miles over with. In my mind, the bike didn't begin until I started the first 40-mile loop. I prepared myself for pain and suffering. Biking is my limiter, and I always experience my greatest lows during this time. If I could just endure the pain and survive the suffering, I knew from prior experiences I would be rewarded with an immense high.
One ceases to recognize the significance of mountain peaks if they are not viewed occasionally from the deepest valleys.
--- Dr. Al Lorin
Finally, I turned onto Hwy 91. I braced myself for 8 miles of a false flat and some bumpy chip seal before turning towards Gunlock. Surprisinlgy, the miles flew. The chip seal didn’t bother me nearly as much as I had predicted. All that needless fretting about bumpy roads. I focused on zoning out, clearing my head of thoughts and waiting. Just waiting. I settled into my pace and just hung out, internally singing fragments of random lyrics on endless loops inside my head ("There Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked"….over and over).
--all smiles and feeling good on the bike.

I turned towards Gunlock Reservoir. I knew the next 16 miles would be the toughest part of the loop. Then, I would have to do it all over again. Time to zone out. The road became uncomfortably bumpy, paved in a gravel-type surface to accommodate slick winter ice. Although my teeth weren’t chattering (probably thanks to a lower psi I had used in my tires), my speed was noticeably affected and it took considerable momentum out of my sails. I chipped away at the bike course, slowly but surely making forward progress. Steadily climbed roller after roller. I was in no hurry. I just wanted to finish. Lucky for me, I seem unable to push myself hard on the bike (as well as the swim). I think this is why I always feel so good on the run portion of the race. I’ve unintentionally saved my legs.

Because it was cold, and I still had to drink to digest all the yummy food I was enjoying, I could feel my bladder bulging. Ugh. I had to pee. The next aid station was far away. I scoured the course for a good bush, envying the occasional male athlete standing on the side of the road. If only it were that easy. I spotted an oak tree with thick, leafy branches, forming a modesty curtain. I hopped off and dove into the midst of the branches, expertly hidden from sight. Only I overlooked one thing; oak tree leaves are prickly! As I squatted, the leaves cut into my hands, drawing blood. Wincing, I lifted my hands reflexively, only to fall square on my ass into a thick pile of dry, piercing leaves. Great. I did the best to remove all the offending leaves from my backside and hands before climbing back onto Torch. As I rode off down the road, I continued pulling random forgotten leaves out of my shorts.

The steep hills began. One after another. Still fresh on the first loop, I enthusiastically got out of the saddle to climb, eager to stretch my legs and give my butt a break. Following this was a very steep, ¾ mile climb after a sharp hairpin loop. I paced myself, got into a rhythm and alternated between sitting and climbing to reach the top. It felt good to use different muscles to break up the monotony of hanging out in the aero bars. Mentally, it also gave me something to focus on. However, I wondered what those hills would feel like the 2nd time around.

I reached the end of the dreaded 16 miles and turned onto U18, back towards town. I was prepared for several miles of long, gradual climbs and false flats. It was not to be. The Ironman gods were smiling that day. Instead, I was pushed by a wicked awesome tailwind. For the next 14 miles, I barely had to take a pedal stroke. I coasted uphill at 24 mph. This was followed by the sweetest, longest stretch of downhill I’ve ever encountered. I sat deep in my aero position, rested, hung out, ate drank and was merry as Torch screamed downhill at 45 mph. It was pure and simple bliss. I felt like I was on a roller coaster.
--Flying downhill on the first loop.
I flew back into town and started the 2nd loop. The wickedly awesome tailwind transformed abruptly into a simply wicked headwind, forcing me to a crawl. The pain begin, suffering hovering at the fringes of my mind. I was prepared. I had been expecting Pain. And, yes, Suffering too. The wind screamed, and I emptied my mind, becoming devoid of thought. I felt myself floating up into the clouds, no longer in my body, no longer feeling any pain, no longer putting energy into suffering.

Mind is everything; muscle [mere] pieces of rubber. All that I am, I am because of my mind.
--Paavo Nurmi

I turned right towards Gunlock Reservoir for the 2nd time. I knew what to expect and I was full of dread. Orphaned arm warmers and road kill Power Bars, flattened by thousands of tubular tires, lay helplessly abandoned on the road. Fatigue set in. I felt exhausted. The urge to lay down and sleep was overwhelming. The Holiday Inn billboard reading, “Your bed is waiting for you,” didn’t help. My shoulders and neck ached. A hot spot formed under the ball of my right foot, causing searing pain to shoot up my leg. My right hamstring whined and complained from an old strain. I was crawling ever-so-slowly. Doubt began to spread, like an infection. I’m too slow. I don’t deserve to be here. I’m not a real athlete. I should have trained harder on the bike. I’m not going to make the cut-off.
However, this time I was prepared. I knew Doubt was scheduled to make an appearance to amplify Suffering somewhere between miles 80 and 95 on the bike. Right on schedule. None of these thoughts are conducive to meeting your goals. Just work with what you got. You will make the cut-off. Just keep moving forward, I told myself. Suddenly, something inside me clicked. My head cleared, and I zoned out, floating free of my body again. I felt no pain, no negativity, no worry. I felt nothing. Just peace. It was wonderful. Relaxing. I wanted to stay there forever.

The peaceful feeling built upon itself, fueling me with confidence. I was thankful my stomach didn’t hurt. I was thankful to be here. I was thankful to be free of suffering. I had been expecting to suffer so much more. In fact, I had been dreading it. It suddenly dawned on me: this is how hard an Ironman is supposed to be. Yes, pain, suffering, and extremely difficult but not what I experienced previously. My prior two Ironman’s were simply unreal. An Ironman is always hard. It’s always exhausting. But there’s a line between an exciting challenge and banging your head against a brick wall. I had broken through brick walls before but had come out on the other side, bruised and battered. In this Ironman, I had figured out a way to climb over the brick wall instead. I’ve had so much experience with suffering, both in my life and in training, intentional and unintentional, that physical pain suddenly became nothing.

I reflected on past training days where I broke through suffering. I remembered a 16-mile run in July in Black Mountain Park where I succumbed to heat and exhaustion at mile 8. I broke down, sat at the edge of the trail and sobbed. I wanted to quit and give up. After a good cry, I brushed myself off, picked myself up, and continued running down the trail to finish the run. The 80 for Haiti and Stagecoach Century where I felt completely spent and exhausted by mile 80. I couldn’t pedal another stroke. I kept going. The feeling of exhaustion passed. I got a second wind, only to later fly by my riding buddies. One of my friends, dubbed me “The Phoenix”, observing my repeat ability to burn up in smoke only to later rise from the ashes. The image of the Phoenix now gives me power in my darkest moments. Patience to wait out the low points and look forward to the light that I know, without a doubt, is at the end of the tunnel. I will never question again that things always get better.

In my failures, I saw the darkest part of myself, where I was weak, where expectations did not meet reality. Until you face your fears, you don't move to the other side, where you find the power.
-- Mark Allen

I began to enjoy the breathtaking scenery around me. It wasn’t just pretty; it was Nature in all Her glory and splendor like a peacock proudly showing off her feathers. I was surrounded by mountains of rich red rocks. Striated lines of blues streaked repeated patterns in the cliffs as if an artist’s knife had etched in the stone, using the mountains as a canvas. Fluffy, white cumulus clouds hovered like pillows in the sky. The wind had chopped off the bottoms in one swift swoop like a mower cutting grass. Snow-tipped mountains formed an omniscient backdrop in the distance. I was surrounded by spring green in the bottom of the canyon as leaves exploded from the trees. Lush grass grew thickly in the pastures as happy cows and horses grazed, their calves and foals napping in the sunshine. A swollen, pregnant creek babbled incessantly on either side of me. I heard the faint rhythmic echo of Indian drums. I imagined a tribe of Indians in a circle, beating drums and dancing in a special ritual for Ironman athletes. Somewhere inside, I knew I was experiencing an auditory hallucination but it pumped me full of much-needed energy. I decided to sit back and enjoy the echoing drumbeats.
--lawn-mowed clouds.
--snow tipped mountains
--Gorgeous red rock formations.
--more obscene beauty. Photos just don't do it justice.

The final steep set of hills by Gunlock Reservoir appeared. I barely had the strength to climb but I knew I must. A line of athletes clip-clopped up the hill, stumbling as they walked their bikes. I refused. I remembered climbing up the final steep hill at the Solvang Century, where I didn’t think I could muster the energy. Yet I had. I knew my mind was playing tricks on me. I forced myself out of the saddle and climbed, rhythmically rocking from side to side on the pedals. My breath came short and sharp; my lungs burned. I sat down and forcefully pushed each pedal down as my quads screamed in anger. I was making progress. Somehow, someway, I made it to the top. Of that hill. Then the next. And another after that. I didn’t question whether I could do it. I didn’t think about it. I just did it. The hill was standing before me and the finish line, and that was all that mattered.

Suddenly, I was turning onto U18 for the final 14 easy miles into town. I knew I was going to make it. A dryboard eraser couldn’t have wiped the stupid grin from my face. The tailwind from the previous loop had died down but the going was still easy, especially after what I had survived on Gunlock. One step at a time. I couldn't wait to run.
--"D" is for Dixie.

--Dixie--after southwestern Utah history, a story of a failed attempt to grow cotton.

T2—Eager Anticipation
I flew into T2 all smiles and full of energy. I couldn’t wait to run. My favorite. I was actually salivating at the thought. I knew the worst part of my day was over. I knew I had faced my demons and slayed them. They wouldn’t be back. I changed into my run clothes, kept my arm warmers in anticipation of a chilly night, and trotted over the timing mat. It was time to run.

Run—Reaching Nirvana
I ran across the timing mat and headed out onto the run course. I knew it would take me a few miles to warm up. I was in no hurry. However, my legs felt fresh. If anything, I felt “Comfortably Numb”. My legs sensationless like two stalks of fluffy cotton. Pins and needles stabbed my head with each jostling step from being in the aero bars for 8 hours but, 2 Ibuprofen later, I felt nothing. My stomach was quiet and agreeable. My body had never experienced such harmonious comfort on the marathon portion of an Ironman before. I quickly settled into a pace, chugging up the false flat for several miles before the real hills began.
--out of T2, ready to run.

I relied completely on the aid stations for water and food. I grabbed pretzels, bananas, oranges, grapes, chicken broth, and coke (not all at once, of course). After 3 or 4 miles and a brief stop at the Port-a-Potty I sternly shook a finger at myself. “No more fruit, Rachel!” I decided I probably had been overeating and drinking in previous races and experimented with less. Less apparently is more (a good theme for this race actually, upon realizing how amazing I did with such seemingly little training). Once I began skipping aid stations, I felt even better, lighter, and could run even faster.
--Run, Rachel, run!

The aid stations and volunteers were amazing. I gave everyone big smiles and thank yous. Each aid station blasted music from a different genre. The volunteers wore costumes to match the theme: classic rock and hippies, 80s and lots of colors and big hair, hip hop, dance music, country music, and a live band with high school kids singing out of tune. Even the bad music sounded good to me. In fact, it made me laugh. I thanked them all, infused with energy. The spectators were also incredible, cheering me on even louder as met them with big grins. The atmosphere was infectious and I soaked it up. It had a snowball effect. I ran even faster, effortlessly. It dawned on me that success does not equal happiness. Happiness comes first. Success comes from being happy. I could run fast because I was happy.

The hills were sharp and steep but they did not bother me. After months and months of incredibly tough trail running, my legs had no problem shuffling up the hills, walking when the grade became exceptionally steep. I enjoyed the steep hills, using them as an opportunity to walk briskly and give my legs a brief respite.
--chugging uphill on Red Hills Parkway

I finished the first lap. 13 miles done. 13 to go. I didn’t even see the finish line just yards ahead of me at the turnaround. It did not exist for me yet. That path had not yet unfolded. I was becoming deeply fatigued and entered a realm of alternate reaility. It was as if the spectators were cheering me on from outside a glass tube. I was floating outside my body, numb and peaceful. A sense of deep contentment washed over me.
Unfortunately, I also was unable to control muscles in my body, especially tiny muscles such as those in my face. My face felt like a stiff mask made of stone. My legs were running at a good clip but they were on autopilot. I was being carried along, astride a speedy strong mount who would carry me to the finish. The crowd at the turnaround screamed and shouted, cheering us on. I heard my name over and over like disembodied voices floating over the crowd. I couldn’t make out individual faces in the crowd. My vision was blurred. It was complete sensory overload. I wished desperately that I could smile and let everyone know how blissful I felt inside but I was paralyzed. I looked forward to the empty lone road ahead, quiet and peaceful, devoid of the overwhelming din consuming me. I kept on running.

--on autopilot at the turnaround
--a face of stone, deeply happy although I can't show it.

The sun began to set and a brisk chill fell onto the Utah desert. I had tied a long-sleeved shirt around my waist from Special Needs. Over my arm warmers, I pulled on the shirt. It felt like bliss. I was encapsulated in a deep, comforting warmth. Nestled in my womblike blanket, I ran even faster. Somewhere around mile 18, the Krazy Glue I had use in a desperate attempt to glue my peeling callous and loose toenail together began to fail. My feet began to blister and sting. I was grateful the Krazy Glue had worked for so many miles. It had been a crazy and reckless experiment; one that had thankfully succeeded.

The sun disappeared and a quiet darkness spread across the rocks. Clouds crowded across the dark sky, blown in by the strengthening winds. There would be no stars or moonlight tonight. I was forced to put my sunglasses back on to protect my eyes as the stinging wind harshly blew dust and silt into my poor, aching dry eyes. I proudly grabbed my neon necklace and kept running, preparing myself for an endless night. In retrospect, it all flew by so quickly.
--the clouds move in

It was now pitch black. All I could see were faint neon glows from other runners. The ground disappeared from under my feet. I couldn’t see the ground or feel my feet dancing atop the pavement, intensifying the sensation that indeed, I was floating through the air.

The occasional spotlight violently broke the blackness. The race organizers who had planted them there had good intentions but they only blinded me more, intensifying the encompassing blackness. Shadows shed from the bright lights danced sharply on the rocks lining the road. I stared in awe, thinking they were an odd group of spectators. Suddenly, it dawned on me. Those were our shadows, cast by the athletes struggling on the road. My own shadow was cheering me on. The shadows ran alongside us, urging us forward. Each athlete carried his own shadow, which changed and transformed with every footstep, growing and twisting longer and longer. I felt like I was in a funhouse of mirrors.

I could see the city lights of St. George down below. Mike Reily’s voice echoed across the valley, reaching my ears atop Red Hills Parkway, an eternity from the finish line. I desperately wanted to be there. I thought about the finish line. How glorifying I would feel when I crossed. I began to get tingles of excitement. I was getting closer every second.

--view of St. George from Red Hills Pkwy.

I finished the final hill and turned to finish the final descending 4 miles back into town. I was flying now. Exuberant. I tried to reflect on the past year of training and my life. Each annual Ironman a milestone, marking the end of a chapter in my life. Each Ironman I do, I leave a piece of myself out there on the course. In return, I take a piece of it with me. I knew I would be forever changed on the other side. Yet, I wondered exactly what those changes would be. Regardless, I knew my life would never be the same, and I welcomed the transformation.

I ran faster and faster, my feet hardly touching the ground. Only 3 miles to go. 3 measly little miles. I knew I was going to make it. I was foaming at the mouth now. Spectators cheered me on wildly. I high-fived everyone, a wide smile from ear to ear. At mile 25, the aid station volunteers were going nuts. They shook the mile marker high in the air. The 25-mile sign bounced with enthusiasm. Everyone lined up on either side of me. I ran through, injected with crazy energy, my hands on either side, an endless stream of slapping hands and cheers. I was sprinting now. I tried to slow down, soak it up, make the moment last just a little longer. I just couldn’t. I was too high with endorphins and wildly exuberant. The spectators saw me sprinting and went wild, which didn’t help in my futile attempts to slow down. I felt like a runaway train, screaming down the tracks. I saw the chute. I sprinted into the loud tunnel of bright lights, crackling loudspeakers, and shouts and screams. I heard my name over and over. I wore an unbridled smile revealing all my teeth, shaking my arms into the air victoriously. I heard Mike Reily say my name, booming over the loudspeakers. I blasted across the finish line.
--I finished!
And as suddenly as it had began, it was suddenly over. I hummed with ecstasy from head to toe. At midnight, fireworks exploded over the city of St. George, marking the end of the Ironman. I watched them, teary-eyed from the hotel parking lot. I thought of George, my late horse, friend and partner. This race had called to me in memory of his undying spirit. And I had not been disappointed.

--Watch me finish!