I just finished the last spoon of the cookie dough ice cream tub that I’ve been devouring. Beside me there’s an empty family sized bag of chips and underneath that an empty box of cookies and a few single kernels inside the empty popcorn bag. No, this is not the sight of someone wallowing in sorrow instead it the sighting of an Ironman nursing themselves back to life.
Let’s start there. I am an IRONMAN. 365 days of double workouts, sweaty gym clothing, tears, frustration, moments of triumph, mood changes and everything else that led me to this moment. I did it. I am an IRONMAN. I feel like I could write a novel about the entire experience, instead, I will try to summarize race day in a single post. Be warned it was a long race so this will be a long post.
I headed up to Mont Tremblant with two of my best friends at 4:30am on Friday. I needed to be checked in before 4pm and wanted to be sure nothing came between registration and me. We got there just after noon and boy was it epic. If you’ve never seen an Ironman before and get the chance to, go. The place is electric, the atmosphere inspiring and really the only way I can describe it is like Disneyland for triathletes. It’s truly a gathering of the fittest and craziest people around.
Check in went smoothly. Only two noteworthy items. First off, you get weighed in pre-race so that if you end up needing medical care they have an idea of who much medicine to give you and can easily assess your level of dehydration. And two as a first timer you are given an orange bracelet that says “I will become one.” Super sentimental and also what a great bonding experience to see exactly who else was experiencing this for the first time. It’s like you instantly had 400 best friends.
The next 1.5 days flew by and it poured rain the entire time. I did a test bike and swim on Saturday while my friends went to the Scandinavian spa. I had pizza the night before the race and even though I told the waiter to make it gluten free he must have misunderstood and I ate a gluten filled pizza. But hey roll with the punches.
Then came race morning. I woke up 5 minutes before my alarm went off at 3:50am. I was surprisingly awake and ate my classic oatmeal and half a cliff bar before heading to the shuttle buses. I had 4 people come up and support me. They will never understand how much their support that weekend meant to me.
I’d never been this nervous for anything before. I did a pretty good job leading up to race day to keep my nerves at bay but race morning I couldn’t shake the feeling of having the whole world on my shoulders. I had soooo many of you reach out to me and tell me the most heartwarming things I’ve ever heard. So many people this past year have mentioned how inspiring it was to watch me chase my dreams and somehow that morning the weight of the dream seemed to be just a little too much. What helped is being surrounded by 2,000+ other people that were exactly like me.
I got body marked, checked my transition items, said hello to a girl in my age category who didn’t laugh at my joke as she was probably too nervous too. And then we made the walk over to the swim.
The Swim – 2.4 miles
I felt very much like I was in a movie. Everything about the swim start was exactly the way I had seen it post race Ironman movies. Jets and fireworks kick off the race and slowly I made my way to the start. This is the first year you were started by your expected finish time. I lined up at the end of the 1:10-1:15-hour group. I’d hoped to swim a 1:20 and by lining up at the end of 1:15 group I thought if I could catch feet I would push myself and swim closer to a 1:15 finish.
Each group is sent off every 5 seconds in groups of 12. The officials’ hand went down and off I went. The first 300m was super choppy. They always are. Lots of getting kicked, pushed under but you keep fighting. Around 500m mark I started dry heaving. I’ve never dry heaved in the water but I told myself to try and relax and just keep moving forward. After the 4th of 5th heave, I recovered and the heaving stopped. I wonder in hindsight if all the chaos was too much to handle and that’s how my body reacted. The rest of the swim was uneventful. It was super choppy the entire way and I was constantly getting hit and pulled under. I’m used this for the start but not finding clean water (aka where you can just swim and not worry about anyone else) for an entire hour was a new experience and rather frustrating. My chosen mantra of the day was “this too shall pass.” In the good moments and the bad, that’s what I would think about. And so here too I thought about this passing.
I was really happy with my sighting, I hit all the buoys perfectly and other than the end feeling long, the water was fine. After what seemed like a slow swim the finish came. I headed into transition and saw the clock outside reading 1:25:xx. “Oh crap did I really swim that slow!?” I thought to myself. It wasn’t until half way on the bike that I realized the pros had started at least 10 minutes ahead of us, and that wasn’t my time. I found out that evening I’d swam a 1:11:06. Never in my wildest dreams had I dreamed I could pull off such a time. All those hours in the water paid off. 3rd in my age group, 375th overall.
The wetsuit strippers were AMAZING. So speedy that before I knew it I was running down the 600m of red carpet towards the change tent. I made sure I had the biggest smile on my face. I was cheering and high-fiving, trying to take it all in. Turns out I flew through the transition in comparison to others. 5:55 minutes later I was on the bike heading out for a day of fun.
The Bike- 112 miles
The first 60km went by almost too fast. I saw the camera crews on motorcycles and the legends of the sport riding out there right beside us. The weather was perfect, the roads dry and the volunteers were amazing. I couldn’t help but have a huge smile on my face. Every time I wanted to go faster I would remind myself to slow down. There’s a long day ahead of us. At the 1:45hour mark a motorcycle pulls up beside me and the lady on the back holds out a yellow card. She tells me that when someone passes me I need to drop back further. I’d know about this rule but unless I went on my brakes every time someone passed me (which at the start was almost every 15- 20 seconds), I would always be riding in a gray area. I thought if I left a couple bike lengths it would be enough. Apparently, it wasn’t.
Since I wasn’t sure if it was a penalty or a warning I stopped at the next penalty tent. The tent was hectic and there was about 25 of us waiting. Clearly, the officials were doing their job today. Once I finally made my way to the sign in sheet and got a timer and thought I’d just be safe and serve my penalty. If you don’t stop at a penalty tent after your penalty you are automatically DQ, which wasn’t going to happen. About 2 minutes into my penalty an older man comes up and recalls a similar situation to mine and asks if it’s a penalty or not. The head referee says yes so I knew at that point I was in the right place. Around minute 3 I decide to make the most of this forced stop and TMI (please stop right here if you’d rather not know the intimidate details of this race) decided to pee my pants. The porta potty was off limits while you served your penalty but no one said anything about peeing your pants. So there I was in the middle of the highway, in the company of the most gorgeous men all around me, I peed myself. Embarrassing for 3 milliseconds, bad-ass the rest of the day.
The penalty ended and I calculated I’d stopped for about 6.5 minutes. “It’s like getting a flat tire,” I told myself and rode away frustrated. I rode the rest of the ride scared I’d get another one but played it extra safe even going on my brakes a few too many times. I finished loop one then headed out to loop two. This is where the true fun began. I’d chosen to drink Infinit. Something about it did not sit well with me. Perhaps it’s the nerves, violent swim, extreme heat, too much sugar or something else, whatever it was I began puking. Like clockwork every 8-12 minutes I would feel the need to burp and instead would simply throw up. Pergectile vomit at 30km/h is something else. This too shall pass.
The first hour it was just annoying. At the 120km I started getting pissy. How had I trained this hard to have some stupid throwing up mess things up? At hour 5, however, I stopped drinking the Infinit and switched to no liquids for 30minutes before sipping on water. Again the puking continued. It started to get really hot and people were falling off their bikes like dead flies. “Drink,” I told myself “you can’t run a marathon on an empty stomach.” I tried some Gaderade but had no luck…. Back to water. I made sure I would give myself water showers every half hour to stay cool. I watched my speed drop and the hill get bigger but I kept repeating “this too shall pass.” And it did. If you take out my penalty even though I slowed down significantly the last 50km I still hit my goal time. Final time with a penalty: 6:22:34. It was the 2nd fastest bike split in my age category.
I made my way back to the red carpet. The legs held up and I ran to transition. I dumped my transition bag on the floor and started putting things on. A volunteer came over as I was finishing and asked if she could help. I smiled and said “do you mind taking care of this s%$t” she laughed and packed up my remaining items and I ran for the exit. I went through in 2:51 minutes. So fast, my friends totally missed me heading out.
The Run – 26.2 miles
The first 2km weren’t bad. They were slower than I’d hoped but the vomiting had stopped and now only nausea remained. The 3km mark hit and things feel apart. I alternated walking and running and taking in all the water when I could. I stopped to use the porta potty at the next aid station and all that came out were a few drops of mud colored pee. F@%K I hadn’t realized how hot it was and how little I’d been drinking. Every aid station I’d gone through a medic would tap me on the shoulder and ask if I was okay and needed help. I knew if I stopped on the side of the course they would make rest so for some stupid reason this next move seemed like a better idea. I ran/ walked to the next aid station. There I locked myself in a porty potty with my head in my hands I blacked out for a few moments.
“Keep going,” I told myself. And so I did. I got up and started moving. The next couple km I was a robot. “Jog as far as you can, then walk through the aid station” I’d tell myself. Each aid station I’d drink a cup of water pour one on my head, put a cup of ice down my bra and then keep moving. Every other aid station I’d try drinking Gatorade. The hills were bigger than I remembered and I was going to dark, dark places. I hated myself for signing up for this, for not having a good enough backup plan for extreme nausea, for letting other people down…. Nothing seemed to matter anymore. Somehow I made it to the half way mark. I saw my friends and they said later I looked like I wasn’t going to make it and for the first time that day they became worried.
Keep going I told myself and started drinking coke. I also picked up salt tablets from my special needs bag and started taking those. Each aid station I’d drink two cups of coke and alternate between two pretzels or two chews. Other people were started to wobble, fall into ditches and pass out. “Why would anyone do this to themselves,” I’d think. “Keep pushing,” said another voice in my head “you are stronger than them.” I don’t remember much of the second half. I remember certain aid stations and I remember the cobble stone path coming down the finishing shoot but nothing else. I ran the second half marathon 10 minutes after than the first, crossing the line having run a 4:51:27 marathon.
My friend stood less than a meter away from my yelling my name. I walked right passed them into the open arms of two volunteers. As soon as they held me, my body crumbled. I spent the next 20-30 minutes being brought back to life in the medical tent. When I was reunited with my friends I was rather upset that my name wasn’t called. He didn’t say “Michele, you are Ironman.” “He did,” they said, “he said it twice.” That’s my single regret from that entire day. I had spent an entire year dreaming about that moment and I don’t remember it. I couldn’t run down that finishing shoot high fiving people, crying tears of joy and celebrating me. That’s my only regret.
I then laid on the sidewalk for a good chunk of time occasionally sipping on Coke, having volunteers constantly check in on me. I eventually made it to the apartment to shower and make my way back to watch the final finisher. I drank close to 8 liters of water in the 24 hours that followed and my pee was still not the correct color of yellow. Most likely I’d also suffered from heat exhaustion. All the signs are there. I also had massive heat rashes all over my legs and chest where the race suit covered my body. On the bright side, I was in so much pain that I didn’t have time to think about my IT band or my feet that were starting to lose their toe nails.
I knew it would hurt. What I wasn’t prepared for was for it to start turning dark so early in the race and never be able to recover. Rather than being frustrated, I’m learning to be thankful. Someone else didn’t make it that day. Yesterday it was announced that someone passed away on the run portion of the race. That puts everything into perspective.
I had three performance goals going into this race. 1) To cross the finish line 2) To do in less than 12 hours and 3) To podium. This time around I’m 2/3. Final time: 12:33:50, 4th in my age group, 123rd out of 460 women and 766th out of 1,816 finishers. I went into this wanting to find my limits and on Aug 20, 2017 I did just that. I found my limits on that given day.
The post-Ironman blues have already started to kick in. What comes next? Will I race another? How soon? What does life look like without training? How will my body handle the change?
I only have one answer so far. Despite telling myself during the race I would NEVER do another one, I know I’ll be back. I don’t know when yet but I want need redemption. For now, I will be packing my bags. In a weeks time, I fly out to Canmore and then up to the Yukon where my next adventure awaits. See you on the flip side!