So, where to begin? At mile 18 last week, when I couldn't keep running any longer, because, really, it was hot? And the first two miles of the course had been downhill, so I went out too fast (10:00 and 9:58, I believe) and then I was totally, completely unprepared for the hills. The hills on top of hills, and at the top of the hill, another hill. And the heat, which was tolerable when you were in the shade, except that there was no shade to speak of. Through mile 14, I was on pace to shatter my PR, to come in close to 4:50-something. But I couldn't sustain it. And that, coupled with the heat, and the hills, partnered to drain my brain of any motivation to keep going. I can honestly say that had I had the opportunity to drop out there at mile 18, I would have. Had there been a water stop nearby, where I could have asked a volunteer to radio for a SAG wagon, I'd been on it. So what saved me from myself was that there was no water stop at that mile marker. And by the time I saw the next little cafeteria table with paper cups and two people manning it, I'd come to a realization. This realization:
If I quit this race, I will never be an Ironman.
If I can't finish a marathon when it's sunny and only 70-something degrees out, and I'm fresh and rested, I will never have the will and determination to finish a marathon after a 2+ mile swim and around 8 hours on a bicycle. And then I thought of the conditions in Wisconsin this year, when so many struggled with the cold and the rain and the hills, but mostly with the beasts within that either pushed them forward or kept them from the finish. And I thought, if I can't finish this stupid race, I'll never finish anything again. Dramatic? yes, but damn, it was hot, and just the fact that I was out there at all proves that I'm already a bit off my rocker, no?
So with that realization, I tucked in and decided that I would finish this damn race. I wouldn't PR, and that didn't matter. I would walk in the last 8 miles, and that didn't matter. What mattered is that I cross that line. I had to finish, because while conditions weren't ideal, I bet every single person who toed the line at Madison in September would have traded that day's weather for what I had in front of me. I had to finish, because my little boy finished his tri back in June, even though the other swimmers intimidated him, and there was a hill for him, too, and they cut his run lap short for him, but he finished, dammit, and if he can, I can.
So I just kept walking. One foot in front of the other, counting down the miles, talking myself into constant forward motion:
8 miles -- I do that on a weekday morning, and put in a full day of work afterward. 7 miles -- hell, that's to the park, around the trail near the roosters and back home.
6 miles -- a 10K. an hour at a good clip, 90 minutes walking it in.
5 miles -- recovery day. to the small park and back using the shortcut.
4 miles -- up the block, around to the Starbucks and back -- hmm, who put that hill here?
3 miles -- that's a short day -- to the fountain at the trails and back home again
2 miles -- around the neighborhood -- nearly there -- where is the next mile marker?
1 mile -- to the school on the corner -- no big deal -- I can do this.
And I did do it. It was slow, it was painful. There were times that I cried. Literally had tears rolling down my face, mixing in with the sweat and salt. I cursed that I wasn't more prepared, that I hit the wall so early, that I had to walk when I know I'm capable of running. I cursed whoever decided to put hills at mile 23, because by then it wasn't the uphills that hurt, it was the downhills that killed. The downhills that pounded my quads with every step, and while I thought, "Free speed!" it was tough to keep going because it hurt to walk downhill.
About .4 of a mile from the finish, a young man named Scott came toward me from the finish. He asked how I was, and he said he was to blame for the hills. I guess he helped re-design the course. He recommended that I exaggerate my steps to let some of the tightness out. He said it would be easier to run it in, that we weren't very far from the finish. He told me I didn't want to be the one walking it in at mile 26. He ran with me. He got me to the drawbridge right before the finish. He ran next to me until I could see the finish line and the timing mats at the foot of the bridge, and then he faded and left me to the bridge. To run it in. And cross the line, upright and in one piece. Not exactly smiling, but upright. And running.
The finish line photo folks were taking down their backdrop already. I wouldn't have stopped for one anyway, because I just needed to get to my car and sit down. And if I'd sat down anywhere else along the way, I wouldn't have gotten back up again, not for a while, and not without help. I got my medal and my finisher's shirt (very nice, both of them, actually -- with the drawbridge prominent in the design), and grabbed a banana. And I went to my car. And I sat there a while. And I realized that I'd finished what I had intended to do. Not in the fashion I'd intended, or at the pace I'd intended, but I'd seen it through. I was disappointed, but glad that I managed to keep going when I really, really, really wanted to quit. I've never wanted to quit a race before. I've never been so challenged mentally and physically that I just wanted to give up, to make it stop, to get where I could just sit and rest and not keep going. But now I know. I know that i can keep going, and make adjustments in the plan, and keep going. And I know now, that I have it in me.
So here is the point of this post. There are three kinds of people in the world -- those that have no idea what Ironman is, those that watch people cross the finish at Ironman and think, "Those people are crazy," and those that watch people cross the finish at Ironman and think, "I can do that." Well, friends and neighbors, I spent 5 hours last night glued to my computer monitor watching Ellie and TriMama and Bolder and Commodore and countless others cross the finish line at Ironman Florida last night. And I don't think they're crazy. So what does that tell you?
It tells you that I floated the idea last night of getting a swim coach to Hub, and he didn't blink. It tells you that at some point during the day, when I asked Hub what he thought about it, he said, "It's mostly mental -- if you do the training, you could do it." It tells you that when I was watching yesterday afternoon, DinoBoy saw them crossing the line and asked, "Is that your race, Momma?" (For the record, I said no, but some of my friends were racing).
I tell you what that means. It means that as of this week I have 2 years and 51 weeks before I turn 40. And I will not turn 40 without attempting an Ironman. It means these things:
- I have to learn to swim, and get that swim coach for me and for the Boy, too.
- I need to learn to shift gears on my Toys R Us piece of crap bike, but by next Christmas, on a real bicycle.
- I need to finish a sprint tri by June, an Olympic-distance by next Christmas, and then spend the summer of my 38th year doing at least one half-IM distance tri.
- I need to lose weight. Goal weight by the middle of next year (and this is not a joke, but some cosmic coincidence, I think) 140.6 pounds. If that means getting a trainer or nutritionist, then that's what it will take.
- I need to re-align my life to allow for the training.
- I cannot train for IM-distance with 11 hours a week spent in traffic, so that has to change. Somehow, I have to position myself to make that change in the next six months.
I'm not starry-eyed enough from watching last night to think this will be easy. I've read the training posts and the logs and I know it's hard work. I know people will doubt me -- doubt that I can do it and question my reasons why. I know this. I also know that people didn't think I could run a marathon.
My family is critical to this, and I know they're supportive. Except maybe DinoBoy, who crinkles his nose when I come in sweaty from running, but who likes my medals nonetheless. Hub is awesome in his total buy-in and indulging me in my whims. But this is not a whim, and I'm sure he knows this, too. He's known me long enough to know that I get what I want. What I need.
So, there you go. A week late with the race report, but really, I think to have hit "publish post" before now would have been incomplete. And I need to put this out there, into the ether, into reality, to make it happen. I have just under three years to make it real. The decision is the hard part. The planning comes next. After that, you just do it -- you just keep in forward motion. Wish me luck.