I don’t know exactly when I made completing an Ironman one of my lifetime goals. It had been over four years and it was when I saw a youtube video or special on Bill Hoyt and his paraplegic son. He competed in marathons and ironmans by pulling his son on a raft during the swim, riding with him on his bike, and pushing him on the run. It was really inspiring. Upon returning from the Peace Corps in the fall of 2012, I started training and racing in triathalons, hoping to eventually build up to an Ironman.
On May 16th, 2016, race day had finally come. My alarm went off at 2:30AM in the Hilton Garden Inn in Woodlands, Texas. I got up and fixed my usual breakfast of cereal, soy milk and fruit then I went to work on getting my water bottles ready with carb and electrolyte powders. I had packed all my special needs bags the night before as well as the nutrition that would need to go into the gear bags I had dropped off the day before. Let’s just say, I used a whole loaf of bread and most of a jar of peanut butter and jelly. I was done getting everything ready a little early but tried to keep thinking what it was I may have forgotten or put in the wrong bag. I sat on the bed and drank coffee and watched CNN with my Dad.
|My Dad and I at the transition area the day before race day|
We left the hotel to walk the mile to the transition area so I could add my water bottles and nutrition to my gear bags. Transition was still a mud fest that had broke my flip flops the day before so today I was smarter and just went bare foot.
|The mud in the transition area broke my 3 year old, dollar sandals from Mali.|
I almost put my bike nutrition in my run bag but then realized it at the last minute. Then I made a pit stop to a porta potty as I was super hydrated and my Dad and I followed the crowd heading to the swim start (yesterday we got lost following people though luckily everyone knew where they were going race day).
I got my body marked, 1063, with permanent marker though I had wished they were the cool stick on tattoos. All of the body markers sounded very excited about their job. I dropped off my special needs bags and then my dad and I found a spot near the American flag at the swim start to wait. It was still very dark when we got there though it got light relatively quick.
|The swim start at around 6AM|
After the national anthem, I headed over to the rolling start and found the sign with 1:20-1:30 (my goal swim time, a little ambitious). It was pretty far in the back. The cut off is 2:20 and swimming is my weakest though I had gotten a lot better thanks to my coach and Tuesday long course swim work outs. For once I was feeling pretty confident about the swim as I had done a practice, 1,000m swim the day before and though the water wasn’t the best quality (very turbid), I was happy it wasn’t salt water with waves and the course looked relatively straight forward.
|Me at the swim start representing USF and Aeropro|
6:40AM, the gun went off and the crowd slowly started moving. I was pretty dazed that the moment had finally come.
|The pros starting the swim off|
I walked into the water and started swimming more on the outside to avoid the crowds. It actually was not too bad since it was a rolling start though every once and a while I would have someone swim almost on top of me or I would bump into someone. I got into a comfortable rhythm, trying to make long smooth strokes and site. I took it one buoy at a time and I probably went out a little too fast. At about 1500m the buoys turned from yellow to orange which made me really happy. At times I would sing to myself, “another one bites the dust”. At 1.5 miles, I started getting somewhat angry at the people in wet suits passing me/climbing on top of me, all slimy like. The water temp was 81 degrees so the race was wet suit “optional”. People could wear them but they wouldn’t be eligible for awards or qualifying for kona (Ironman world championships in Hawaii) and they had them start after everyone else had entered the water, thus the faster ones were climbing over us slower ones.
At around the 2nd mile, I was a little tired and ready to be done. The last 0.4 seemed to go on forever
though we got into a narrower section of the man made lake and it was motivating to see people on the sides cheering and holding signs. My watch hit 2.5 mi and I was still a little ways from the finish. Swimming on the outside may not have been the best idea. I started getting emotional at the finish that I had completed the first leg of the ironman within the time limit. Volunteers helped us up the ladders then up stairs through transition.
|Me at the swim finish|
I jogged a bit and then they had me shout out my number and a volunteer handed me my bag. That was great as I was worried I would need to search for it. I headed in to the crowded changing tent though a volunteer immediately got me some water and they were asking what I needed. I was starting to realize what people said about volunteers being amazing was true.
I scarfed down a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and stumbled through putting my biking clothes on. I carried my shoes and got my bike (unfortunately there were not that many bikes left as I was one of the slower swimmers). I got really muddy but they had kiddy pools with then muddy water to rinse our feet and a young boy held my bike for me as I rinsed and put on my shoes and socks. Then I was out of transition, and mounted my bike and was off. It was so nice to be on the bike and done with the swim.
|Picture of me during the 112 mile bike|
The first 30 miles went well and I was on pace, about 17-20 mph. I regretted not peeing in transition and kept holding off each water/food stop to try to make good time. I was passing more people than were passing me which was nice. I also realized that I had put my bike shorts on backwards and the butt padding was in the front, oh well….I think finally at mile 40 or so I stopped at a porta potty and it was glorious. I also got more water.
It was at mile 50 and into the third quarter of the 112 mile bike that I started to feel a bit fatigued and tired. My heart rate and pace dropped. Though I had most of my nutrition and such on me, I decided to stop and chug some water and get a banana when I got my special needs bag. I started eating every half hour instead of every hour and started to feel better. I think I had not eaten enough after the swim and bonked. The third section of the bike was the toughest for sure. There were a lot more hills and it was windy. At times I was going under 15mph. Overall, the course was pretty nice and forested. We went through some parks and it was all one loop. There were points where we were next to a lot of traffic/cars which I didn’t particularly like but that is unavoidable. After half way through the bike and the rest of the race, I really wanted a tooth brush. My teeth felt coated in sugar.
|Another picture of me during the bike|
I mostly used my watch but I also liked seeing the signs every 10 miles particularly at mile 90 and mile 100. The last 12 miles like the last 0.4 miles of the swim went on the longest and I was counting every mile. By that time I had picked up the pace and the last 3 or so miles was downhill which was great. I started getting excited and emotional to be done with the second leg and most of the race and to get to my favorite part of triathlons, the run!
|Me at the end of the 112 mile bike|
I finally got to the dismount and someone yelled out my name “Colleen” which surprised me and I saw my friend Kevin from Peace Corps with a camera in my face then my dad. I didn’t think I looked that great for a picture and felt bad I didn’t stop to talk more but the bike already had taken me too long so I rushed to transition. They took my bike for me and then a smart volunteer told me to take off my helmet to help me cool off.
|Kevin's picture of me at the end of the bike|
I did a light jog to the changing tent after grabbing my gear bag and then hit the porta potty ( I wouldn’t make the same mistake as after the swim). I was moving a bit slower at this transition and enjoying the ice water. It was nice to get in fresh clothes though I was a bit sun burned and chaffed in random areas. I made sure to spray on some sunscreen though didn’t know how good it would do as I was covered in sweat. I had a volunteer help with my back and then liberally applied Vaseline under my Aeropro jersey that I had picked out specifically to wear for the race but had a tendency to chaff me under the arms. I put on my favorite visor (from the Key West Half iron distance race) and my compression socks which were difficult to get on.
And then I was off! The first 9 miles (the course was three loops) went great. I was on pace or faster…probably too fast and the crowds were amazing as promised. My favorite cheer section that was one of the first where very fit guys in speedos were dancing and giving out high fives.
|Cheer section: fit guys in speedos|
There was also a hippy station which people dressed like hippies, beating trash cans that was pretty awesome. One station had a guy dressed in an Ironman costume like Robert Downey Jr. and then there was the guy in a red speedo that had me smack his ass on the second lap around mile 11. I really enjoyed the signs. I wish I could remember all of them. “Remember, you paid for this”, “Run like snot”, “You smell horrible”, “Don’t trust that fart”, “You run better than congress” were a few token ones. A lot of people were just day drinking and cheering people on. There was a particular crowd by a road crossing with a policewoman and she was dancing too every time I saw her. I felt they should be tired too. It was amazing how the ironman race united the community, volunteers, family, and friends. My own Uncle who I hadn’t seen in over 8 years drove 4 hours to see me finish! At some points I felt guilty for spending all this money particularly after being a Peace Corps Volunteer in Africa but the Ironman is so much more than about spending lots of money on bikes, equipment, and race registrations and that was definitely evident at the race. It is a journey for both the athletes, their family, friends and the community.
My 9 minute miles turned into 9:30 which then turned into 10 minute miles. I was mad at myself for already being behind my target 12/13 hour pace, probably, and was thinking how unrealistic it was. It helped that there were water stations almost every mile and a half. Ice water, Gatorade, coke and eventually chicken broth. There were even some spectators giving out pickles. I made sure to drink a lot, remembering the ironman training weekend where I had felt really dizzy at mile 4 of a 10 mile run after a 100 mile bike. Luckily I had trained in the FL heat which was the same as it was in Texas (probably 88 at the time I was running) but my body wasn’t having it. I started dumping a lot of the water on my head to cool off and taking the cold-water sponges. Luckily after mile 15 or so, it started getting later and cooler but my pace was still well above 10. The 2nd and 3rd laps were really tough. I tried to keep moving the whole time though I started walking through the aid stations to better consume water. I forced myself a few times to eat bites of PB&J but I was tired of them and tired of sugar though I did eat some oranges and drank some coke at a few stations. I started getting nauseous around mile 19 or so and feeling a little dizzy.
At one point, a guy was trailing me when I thought he was trying to pass. He said he was sorry and was using me to pace as I had a good pace. I thought I had an awful pace but it was a nice compliment and company for 2 miles before he had to stop. I could only mumble out “good luck” though I wish I had tried to convince him to stay with me. At the end of 1st and 2nd laps, I could hear the announcer say “YOU ARE AN IRONMAN” as I passed the finish and couldn’t wait to get to that finish.
The last 6 then 4 miles were really rough though the last two, I felt better since I was in the home stretch and could push the pace a little bit closer to 10 minute pace at least. At the last half mile, I really pushed it and I sprinted the finish even though I felt that wasn’t the most polite as I passed three people clearly taking their time to enjoy the finish and get a good photo. I don’t know where I found the energy but I had envisioned that finishing shoot, lined with people cheering for months even years and the moment was finally there. I was half choking back tears for the last half mile.
|Me at the finish of the Ironman (14:02 was my time since I started the swim later in the rolling start)|
The volunteers had to stop me as I was well past the finish line. They had a separate volunteer for each person who crossed the finish line and he handed me water and kept asking if I was okay. I was still feeling a little dizzy/sick to my stomach but I was elated to be finished. I got my medal and took the picture and thanked my volunteer.
|Finally got my medal!|
Then I realized that I had not given a rendez-vous point for my Dad, Uncle and friend to meet me. Another thing to add to the list for Ironman #2 (n’shallah but not for a while). I called my dad a few times on stranger’s cell phones but could barely move. I sat on a curb and laid in the grass. Eventually they came to the finish.
|Post race, could barely move|
I saw my Uncle Bob for the first time in 8 years but couldn’t hug him since I was disgusting. I eventually went to get my food though I wasn’t exactly hungry. I did scarf down two pieces and eventually three of pepperoni pizza and a coke.
|Me with my Dad and Uncle Bob|
It was a long walk back to the car for sure and then I had to get my bike out of transition. I barely even had the energy to shower but I did when I got back and I was seriously craving ice cream so my Uncle Bob got me a mini ben and jerrys from the hotel J I tried staying up and chatting with my uncles and friend but eventually passed out.
The next day I was overwhelmed by a back log of facebook messages, posts, text messages, and phone calls from family and friends congratulating me on the race as I had been overwhelmed in the final weeks leading up to the Ironman. My best decision in Ironman training was getting a proper bike fit and coach (Roy Foley with Aeropro coaching) who designed my training plan and had group work outs I could participate in. The team had been so supportive throughout my training and especially before and after the race. I couldn’t have completed the ironman without my family and friends. My family helped me emotionally and monetarily. My Nana supported me early on in cross country and track by always picking me up from practice and going to every one of my races/meets. It was great to have my Dad at the race and he helped with the road trip from Florida to Texas and back.