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 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.