Twas the night before the Ironman
We stayed with family of Best Boyfriend Mark in Montreal which gave us the perk of a kitchen. That meant having my usual pasta dinner, complete with Chef’s plain pasta sauce. After I ate and Mark recovered from his difficult 20-mile run, then packing and organizing for race morning began. That’s when I got my first Ironman gift — a Zoot triathlon bag. One bag to carry to transition, not three. And I actually felt confident I had everything I needed.
Later that evening, Mark kept talking to me as I was trying to fall asleep. At one point, I wondered if he would shut up so I could actually get to sleep. Turns out, that was his plan — to keep talking so I didn’t have time to think about being nervous. It worked. There was no time to cry with him babbling.
While I woke up every two hours or so concerned that the alarm would not go off, I actually slept rather well. Up at 4 a.m., I had my oatmeal with raisins, mini-bagel, coffee and Gatorade. All packed, we were out the door and off to the race site. Setting up my transition was deliberate and easy. In fact, the most difficult part was getting the timing chip on my bike. In order to accurately count laps on the race track, an additional chip is put on the wheel of each Ironman’s bike — only I needed to recruit the help of my friend Larry Lewis to properly install it on my bike.
Half an hour before the start, I put on my wetsuit, got a last minute pep talk from Larry and his friend (and my new pal) Woody and announced to myself I could do this as the sunrise gently bathed the Olympic rowing basin.
Ah, no secret, the swim is the most difficult and daunting part of the triathlon for me. But with my wetsuit, calm water and plenty of time to get the 2.4-miles done, I was ready to go. The horn sounded and I stayed in the back of the pack, breaststroking a bit before starting out on my swim. I felt pretty good. Upon making the turn to return back to shore, the half Ironman swimmers caught up with me and I encountered some bumps, including one guy who grabbed both my feet and pulled me down. (Um, dude I am not even in your race!)
First lap done, I ran across to get in the water for my second lap. Excited, I sprinted to the swim entrance, got in the water and …. realized I ran too quickly. Calm down girl! I treaded water for a moment to catch my breath, then started out again. At this point, I had my own private kayak escort being the last Ironman swimmer in the water. At one point my mind started to wander. What if I don’t make the swim cut off?
But I was working hard. I was giving my best effort. There was nothing I would have done differently. I was content that no matter what happened, I had done my best. And I was at peace with that, regardless of the outcome.
The flags kept getting close and finally I was at shore. A volunteer directed me to transition where I made friends with two other guys who had taken about two hours for the swim. Solidarity in the back of the swim pack! But I still beat them out of transition. Just saying.
Ah, get me to the bike! It’s my favorite part. It’s what I like the best.
This bike course took place on the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve, the site of Montreal’s Formula 1 Grand Prix. There’s one small hill and a few technical curves which meant staying in the big chain ring for most of the ride. The back stretch did have a head wind which got stronger as the day wore on. Or I just got tired and handled it a bit worse late in the ride. Either way, it was annoying.
The hardest part was following my coach’s advice: Stay within yourself.
See, the Ironman (called the Esprit at this race) and the Half Ironman (called the Demi-Esprit) start around the same time. But the day is a triathlon festival of sorts, including a duathlon, a relay event along with sprint and Olympic distance races. That means during the course of the day there are many people on the bike course, most of whom are doing fewer laps (OK, many fewer laps) and therefore are cycling at much faster speeds.
It took some effort to remember that I was doing the Ironman. I had a long day ahead of me. Hence, there was no point in chasing down the 19-year-old girl in the Olympic race wearing running shorts with a Camelback hydration system on a comfort bike. (Though it was really tempting!)
By lap 27, it was starting to get hard and there were 14 laps to go. My knees were starting to ache from pushing the big gear so hard for so long. My mind not only wanted to chase down people in shorter races wearing Camelbacks and toe cages but it started to drift toward the upcoming run.
I went back to focusing on my race. I recalled not only the advice from my coach about staying within myself, but what my friend Jill told me: You have nothing to prove to anyone.
This was my race. That became my only thought as I pushed around the track until I heard the announcement over the loudspeaker in a thick French accent, “Amy Moritz, final lap.”
Feeling pretty good I took off for the marathon at a relaxed but decent pace. As I entered the circuit around the rowing basin I caught up with Larry. We ran together off and on during the first three laps (there were nine total). As I finished lap No. 3, I shouted out to Mark, “This is starting to get hard.” I wasn’t in danger of stopping. There was no chance of giving up. I could walk the entire rest of the way and finish with time to spare. My body was just starting to feel the pain. I was starting to get tired. It was time to formulate a plan.
At the next water stop, I caught up with Larry again, just as I was taking my first extended walk break. With his expertise (he has finished 26 Ironmans after all) we devised a run-walk schedule for the laps. We gradually picked up his other friends, Joe and Woody, and we ran together. The guys, who called themselves my “security detail,” were two laps ahead of me. But the time went by quickly. We chatted about the race. I listened to their stories of past Ironmans. We sang a few verses of “Celebration” from time to time.
The laps went by quickly with the company and soon enough, Larry, Joe and Woody were finishing their race, crossing the finish line as a trio. With two laps to go for me, Best Boyfriend Mark jumped in with me (a practice allowed at Esprit after the race is 12-hours old). We followed the same pattern of run-walk that I did with Larry and the gang.
I received special powers on my last lap — my orange wrist band at the timing mats to signify my final lap. That orange wrist band not only makes people run just a tad faster on the last lap, it also makes them smile and wave at every single person they come in contact with.
The crowd was sparse. It was 9:03 p.m. and only a handful of Esprit athletes were still on the course. But as I approached the rowing basin stands, I heard a cowbell. Then I heard cheers. As I ran toward the bright lights of the finish line, I smiled. I smiled big and bold, not just for my official “finishers photo” but because I wanted to soak in the entire atmosphere. I had done it. I was now an Ironwoman. No one could take that from me.
How did I feel?
Physically, my knees had been sore on the bike. After the swim and bike my upper back and shoulders were tight and sore. My quads were pretty stiff. And there was one nasty blister that needed to be dealt with. Overall though, not too bad for 14 hours of exercise.
Mentally? I wasn’t one bit loopy. Go figure.
Nutritionally? I must have been spot on. Didn’t feel a bonk coming on once. But I was definitely ready for some solid food that did not have the word “Newton” in it.
Emotionally? I was happy. I was amazed at how I felt to be honest. Proud and accomplished. I felt as if the day was spent with family. I felt surrounded at every turn by people who wanted me to succeed. (Much more on that topic later this week.)
Was it everything I expected? To be honest, I came to the race not knowing what to expect. But the day was everything I had wanted it to be — fun, challenging, a time to connect with like-minded people, a chance to experience something new and an opportunity to show myself just how strong I can be.