Thursday, June 27, 2013

Call me Ironman

I wish I could stop and rewind the video of the last 4 days. Truth be told, the excitement in the days that follow an Ironman almost rivals the incredible emotions of the day itself. Perhaps this is why every attempt—up until now—to sit down and organize my thoughts on paper has proven fruitless. Too many thoughts, too many memories struggle for attention in an attempt to claim the spotlight of a day filled with highlights.

I look down at my hands and realize I still have them both. Each still exhibits 5 fingers. My feet still work, and every single toe still has its toenail. I remember once hearing that racing an Ironman will shave off about 2 years of your life. I guess after finishing, I thought the loss would be a little more tangible. Sure, my muscles screamed with every step I took. My abdominals seized with every inhalation. My gut rejected all my stomach contents when I got home (I thought I’d be sleeping on the toilet Sunday night). I’m still nursing a blister the size of an apricot on the bottom of my right foot.

My legs have finally recovered, making walking more manageable and descending the stairs a little less hazardous. I haven’t died from diarrhea, or broken anything to make my life any more difficult. The sunburn on my back has even started to fade into a nice tan.

Yet what scares me most about this wave of Ironman frenzy is the fact that, not 24 hours had passed since my 11 hour and 10 minute day of racing, and I was hungry for my next Ironman. I must be sick.
Rewind to 4 am, Sunday morning

Shit. I really do have to get up. Yet it felt almost mechanical. I felt calm. Getting out of bed, finding my clothes, heart rate monitor, and timing chip I’d laid out the night before. Go upstairs to down my breakfast of sweet potatoes with toasted pecans and raisins, two hard-boiled eggs, and a banana with almond butter. My breakfast that I’ve eaten nearly every morning for the last year would certainly carry me through to the starting line, setting me up for a perfect day filled with Bonk Breakers, GU Roctane drink and gels, and chomps. I gagged a little just thinking about trying to stomach it all.


Bryan dropped me off to be body marked. I searched for Adam and Jen Little, found them, and thanked them for the early well wishes and calm demeanor I so much desired on such a crazy morning. My new Quintana Roo Cdo.1 still hung from its rack, waiting to be loaded with nutrition and water. When all was done, I realized it was time to find Bryan and get ready to swim.


The starting gun would sound in just 5 minutes. I looked down at my toes, then out toward the pros surfing across the water. They’d just rounded the turn buoy to start their second loop, and the Under 60 minute swimmers in the group ahead of me began to nudge forward. I followed. It wasn’t long before I heard the cannon, and we surged forward as those ahead of me walked, then ran under the arch, over the timing mat, and plunged into the water. Not too crazy of a start, I suppose. Yet not 400 yards out, I felt as though I’d swam right into a blender. I searched for the edge of the mass in an attempt to find clean water. I stayed right along the buoy line to avoid being hit on the head or pummeled from behind.
Lap one finished, just one more to go. I jumped right back into the water and found the group to be a little friendlier. I remember thinking how it would feel to have to start a second loop. The thing is, I wasn’t thinking. I was doing. You just do it.

Far more open water appeared in front of me, which allowed me to lengthen my stroke and finally feel comfortable in the water. Before long, the final turn toward the shore arrived, and Kathi Best screamed at me from the sideline as I ambled up to the transition area to have my wetsuit peeled.

Swim start. Photo by James Richman.

My stomach was not cooperating. Even as I made it back through town after riding an entire loop of the bike course, my stomach felt distended. The Tums I’d eaten back in transition hadn’t seemed to calm anything down, so I ate more Pepto Bismol I’d packed in my Bike Special Needs bag. I could think of nothing better to do as I rode toward town for one last out-and-back on the bike. Every 20 minutes, my Garmin alarmed me to eat. Every 20 minutes, I cursed that stupid alarm, humoring myself by thinking, what can I serve you today? We have an assortment of Bonk Breakers and Chomps? Would you like Roctane Drink with that order?

Despite my stomach, I ate religiously. I downed some kind of calorie source with water and hoped my discomfort would subside by the time I made it back to town. I passed far more people on the second loop than I did on the first, certain I’d paced myself appropriately. Yet every time I passed someone who’d succumbed to a flat, I said a little prayer that mechanical trouble wouldn’t slow me down.

Photos by James Richman.


I managed a relatively smooth dismount from my bike but nearly collapsed once on my feet as a started running toward my Run Gear bag. Volunteers motioned me to the tent to change while I passed the long line of porta potties. I couldn’t help but think the time I likely saved by peeing on my bike. No pit stop for me!

One girl dug through my bag and found my Pepto Bismol. Yes please! The other girl helped take my socks off so I could don clean, dry ones. She attempted to pull them on, only to have my hamstrings spasm.

The three of us worked together to get me to the ladies with sunscreen. I took inventory as they washed me with it. My Garmin was set to Run mode, and I began to waddle down the chute toward town, only to have my stomach clench with displeasure. I carried two Roctane gels in my hands. Come on, just a marathon to go. Sounds ridiculous, right? Just a silly MARATHON! You wouldn’t believe me, however, when I tell you just how reassuring it was to say that to myself.

I passed my parents and Bryan as I ran up Sherman Avenue. Virginia Knight, my biggest cheerleader, and Libby Kalkoske, my most wonderful massage therapist, urged me onward up the road. Oh Libby, you have no idea how much I need you! 


An entire hour had passed and I’d only just passed mile 6. Holy crap. By this time, I’d consumed one gel and used every aid station up until now for water and coke. My stomach was starting to feel better but my legs quivered with uncertainty, as it felt as though a spasm would delay my already slow progress any moment. How I love that coke! I am now quite certain that I most definitely prefer it cold and slightly fizzy. I cannot adequately describe the pure disappointment I felt upon downing warm, flat soda.


Photo by James Richman.
Mile 19. Just pluggin’ along. I’d resorted to the fact this run would leave me incredibly disappointed with myself in the end. I couldn’t help but feel the need to walk, and when I did run, I ran far slower than I had planned to. If I couldn’t feel any worse, thank goodness porta potties were planted at the Mile 20 aid station. It soon became apparent my stomach had started digesting food again. The only problem was, the outcome wasn’t all that pretty.

Saved by the porta potty, I continued through the turn-around for the final stretch toward town. Just 6 more miles, Meghan. Walk a little. Run a little. Sip some coke. Then water. Then coke again. Again, bless the aid station at mile 24 for its porta potties as well. I think they smelled a little better than the one at mile 20 did.

Roger and Jessi Thompson caught me with just 4 miles to go. I remember Roger asking how I felt. Just 4 more miles, Roger. I’ll make it. They drove on a little further, and I made sure my pace mirrored more a run than a walk when I passed them stopped at the side of the road. I also made certain that when I passed Haley Cooper-Scott and her cheering squad the second time, I’d also be running. The look she gave me at mile 8 (I was walking) could not have been any clearer coming from a professional. Without the least bit of empathy in her face, she looked at me and said, “Run, Meghan.”

At mile 25, Kathi and David Cole motioned me forward. Cathy Stephens waved me forward, too. Steve Anderson found me while on his bike. “Come on, Meghan. You’re almost there.”

I ran.


I had just passed the Y in the cones that steered runners either right to go out for a second loop or left toward the finish line. This time around, I’d earned my trip to the left. Upon heading toward that final turn onto Sherman Avenue, how fitting the last person I should meet would be the guy who encouraged me to sign up for this race: Craig Thorsen. I’m doin’ it, Craiger! I’m doin’ it! And with that, a final handclasp, a last pat on the back, I made that final turn…
…Sherman Avenue. Last year while spectating, I remember looking down the street and wondered how it would look when I ran down it as a participant. I smiled. Spectators lined the streets as volunteers waved me onward toward the finish line. As I neared the chute, I saw Lora Jackson and Russ Abrams off to my right. I waved, smiled, and pumped my arm thinking: Yes…I’ve done it. I neared the finish line, and it felt as though people quadrupled in numbers. The bleachers were buried under hundreds of people, and all I had left to do was put one more foot in front of the other. My parents and Bryan stood off to my left, my mom’s face flushed with excitement. I’ll never forget the smile on my dad’s face. Bryan stood out in his bright green shirt, my unwavering companion in this life of Ironman training. Now, the finish line was all that remained. I barely heard Mike Riley scream my name as I collapsed into Adam’s arms. My day was done. Call me Ironman.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Just 5 more days: Ironman CDA

For those who know me, you'll never find me sitting on my ass doing nothing. I’ve done about all the things a girl could do in the kitchen (dinners are prepared three nights in advance…) I even found myself peeling oranges because I had no other fruit to cut up. My only explanation is that, food that is ready to eat is food more likely to be eaten. I've moseyed around the yard, pulling weeds and tending to the vegetable garden. Since I have nothing left to do, I thought I'd write a little something for you instead. (By the end, you'll likely have suggestions of things I can do). 

I still remember 15 days ago when I found comfort in the fact I could still count the number of days to Ironman with my fingers and my toes. It leaves me a little disconcerted that I no longer need my toes or the fingers on my left hand. Only five fingers remain.

For the last few days, a number of events have preoccupied my time. I volunteered at the TriFusion Kids Triathlon by setting up on Friday, only to parade all the kiddos through transition the following Saturday morning. Later that afternoon, my family accompanied me to Cheney to watch me graduate (FINALLY!) with my Doctorate degree. I don’t think the sun could have beat down on Roos Field any more strongly than it did Saturday. My fellow classmates and I roasted underneath our black robes and felt doctoral hood.

Sunday, I ran my last longish (1-hour run), swam my last longish (1.2-mile swim), and enjoyed an afternoon recovery bike ride along the Centennial Trail. Today marks the 5th day out from Ironman Coeur d’Alene.

While I’m on the downward slide of my 3-week taper, I allowed myself an early morning ride this morning. After last night’s thunderstorm, the fresh, clean smell wafting from the verdant forests of Riverside State Park helped me forget about the road grime that splashed up onto my jersey and legs. Never mind the fact I’d washed my bike last night (having nothing better to do). I had plenty of time to clean it up again this morning when I was finished.

I seem to be handling this taper without too many qualms. Perhaps my nerves are a little vexed, my mind a little uncertain, my muscles a little confused. Sure, I’ve cried more times in the last two weeks than I can remember crying in a 5-month span. What’s scarier is not knowing exactly why tears form in my eyes. All I know is: Sunday, I will run a race I swore I’d never do. I will showcase a body hardened by over a year’s worth of training. I will rely on the cheers, encouraging words, and fist pumps from a crowd filled with family, friends, and people simply inspired by the sport itself.

Join me in Coeur d’Alene this Sunday, June 23. When you see number 302, tell her to keep moving. Encourage her to stay within herself. Remind her she signed up for this out of her own aspiration. Tell me to breathe.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013


When I look back at the past week, I feel as though I need to sit down and hang on to something sturdy. One week ago today, my parents and I flew down to Colorado Springs to watch my brother, Ian, graduate from the Air Force Academy. To say we felt “proud” is an incredible understatement, especially when we thought of all the times we prayed for his success in the face of difficult tests and physical measures. Heck, if he wasn't flying them, he was jumping out of airplanes!

Over 1,000 graduates in this year's class. It was pretty
overwhelming to watch them all march out onto the
In the midst of all the pomp and circumstance that surrounded Ian’s graduation, I couldn’t help but feel slightly uncomfortable with leaving the predictable and structured life of Spokane I’ve come to adopt in the face of an impending Ironman that now stands less than 20 days away. Leaving for Colorado during the biggest weak of my training—my peak week—made me wonder if the “balance” people have encouraged me to incorporate in my life was really the best idea at this time. Yet being the pre-planner than I am, I managed to lie out a 20-hour training week that included daily runs with my dad and multiple trips to a nearby YMCA to use their pool and spin bikes.

A sampling of my mom's planning. Ever seen a
training plan like this?
Mom helped me by writing out an itinerary of the trip. She broke up each day into 1-hour increments, filling in the details with regard to when we needed to leave the hotel for certain activities on the base, when we’d likely be back, when we needed to meet family and friends for dinner, and (bless her) when holes in our schedule would allow for a quick hour of training.

Dad and I ran early in the mornings before most of the crew had even woken up; he drove me to the YMCA so I could fit in swims and time on the spin bike later in the afternoons. If trying to juggle family time with training wasn’t fatiguing enough, then training at 7400 feet of elevation certainly left me gasping for air! I didn’t notice it as much during our runs, but I soon realized more frequent breaks after shorter meter intervals in the pool would be necessary.

Least to say, finishing what I set out to accomplish down in Colorado felt incredibly rewarding. I did well balancing time with family and friends, celebrating Ian’s graduation, and maintaining a consistent training schedule with the help of my mom and dad. I may not have had enough time to reap the benefits of training at altitude, but judging by the way my long training days this past weekend went, I think mentally—if not physically—those four training days made me stronger.

I arrived home Thursday afternoon and, upon returning home, took my overly excited pup, Maci, for a much-appreciated run. We both enjoyed the cool, crisp evening air and warm sunshine as we ran through the woods of Riverside State Park. Friday morning, Bryan joined us for another run that instead, was laced with early morning bird chatter and the fresh smells of morning that only trees, flowering shrubs, and grass could create.

My greatest companion. She will go anywhere and do
anything with me. She may run 18 miles through the rain,
but she would much prefer to soak in the sunshine while
laying on my lap. 
To round out my longest training week to date, Bryan and me rode the Ironman CDA course on a mild, slightly overcast Saturday that left me incredibly happy with the way my body performed and responded to the nutrition plan I have come to adopt. Let’s just say I would be incredibly happy if race day could feel as good as Saturday felt. I rode my new Quintana Roo Cdo.1 Race bike; a fast, slick race horse that I’ve been getting to know for the past three weeks. Thanks to Bryan’s help adjusting the rear derailleur, it shifted and performed without a single hitch (as did I).

Finally, yesterday we drove out to run three loops of part of the 24-hour mountain bike course. I still tell Bryan: if we’d only started an hour earlier, we likely would have missed the extraordinary deluge that left all three of us—Bryan, Maci, and me—completely soaked to the skin. Out of the three of us, Maci looked the least bit happy. She couldn’t figure out why us idiots would go out for another loop when the car sat in the parking lot, offering refuge from the rain. Being the loyal pup that she is, though, she trailed behind and worked hard to “enjoy” yet another romp through the woods.

Eighteen miles, a load of soaking, dirty, smelly, running clothes later, we headed home to take warm showers (Maci included), eat a filling meal of steak and eggs, peppers and onions, and potatoes before heading out for one last training bout: four loops around Bear Lake.

We cajoled a fisherman to let us by his lines when he told us swimming wasn’t allowed on his side of the lake. We slipped into water that felt colder than last time. We busted out four loops around the lake even as dark clouds threatened us from the north. After just over an hour, my 20-hour week was finished.

When all is said and done, the “hay is in the barn.” I have nothing left to give. What is shall be. Now, to finish my internship this week, to graduate with my Doctorate degree the following week, and to feel fully recovered the week after that. So THIS is the life of an Ironman. Just give me a second...

…I need to catch my breath.

More pictures from an eventful time down in Colorado. Again, I couldn't be more proud of everything Ian has accomplished.
Ian is left-most in the front row.
Graduation day, marching out onto the field.
Ian and Jessica Bower, his beautiful girlfriend.

With Aunt Tamara and Uncle Bill.