How do you capture “your first time?” How do you remember it all, much less put it into words? Well here goes - and it's long (which is why, in part, it's taken me more than a month to write it).
Packing for a race that’s out of town is nothing new – “just bring it all,” obviously - but it always makes me anxious. What if I somehow forget that *one* critical thing?! Well that’s why we have race checklists silly, but still.
I spent most of the week before the race planning and double planning. I had todo lists for each night and the race - and even for each transition! – starting Tuesday night. I wasn’t leaving anything to chance. If I forgot something during the race – like sunblock before the bike like in Arizona 70.3 – it could make for a loooooong day. Packing lists, shopping lists, even things to do each day before gear drop off. I was going to be ready.
Just some examples. I'd put them all, but it'd be 10+ links.
Saturday morning, I got up and went over my "Saturday before drop off" list and headed over to the park. Winnie and I were supposed to do the practice swim, but I didn't want to get my wetsuit wet the day before the race (maybe it wouldn't dry in time, maybe it'd be cold when I put it on, blah blah blah) and when Winnie and I met up, she told me we'd have to do at least a 700. I wasn't feeling that either, and opted not to get in the water. Obviously I can swim a 700 but I was really nervous about keeping every bit of exercise in me for the next day. Besides, we just swam in the lake a month ago and it was super warm. How different could it be?? (here's where I pull you aside and say "<-- pay attention to that part")
We dropped off our bikes and dropped off our gear - leaving my stuff always freaks me out (see above about "what if I forget something") - and I did a couple practice runs going from transition to the two bag areas so I knew where my bags would be located. Then we met up with Steve and Glendale - our unofficial IMAZ mentors - got some pictures, last minute advice, and then headed off for food. It's weird prepping for a race like this having never done it because you question every single thing you are putting in your body. I usually eat anything, and a lot of it, but I was hyper focused on "plain rice, chicken, maybe sweet potatoes." Boring AF but safe.
Then I went back to the hotel and went over my remaining Saturday and pre-race checklists and just tried to kill time. Waiting is sometimes the hardest part. Well, if you aren't counting the 2.4 mile swim, the 112 mile bike, and then the marathon, then waiting is the hardest part.
Sunday morning I got up at 3:30. I hadn't slept well - who does? - and started going over my pre-race checklist. I had added "at the bag" items to the checklists so I'd remember everything I'd need to add to each bag when I got to the park. I woke Latisha up and we were on our way.
I walked over to the transition area with Winnie and upon seeing everyone there, I got honestly excited; I wasn't nervous. VERY weird for a race. I just had this feeling of 'I can do this. It won't be fast, but I can do this." I went through my checklists - really, these things were a life saver for my sanity - and met up with Winnie, Latisha, Alice, Jesus, Joyce, and Veronica for some last minute goodbyes and good lucks. We bumped into Mike Pajaro and Laura Kern who also wished us luck and then Winnie and I started the long walk to the swim start.
|Inspirational temporary tattoo
I left Winnie at the 1:30 corral and moved to the 1:20 corral, just trying to stay calm and relaxed. People on the whole were very conversational and friendly. It eased the tension a bit. Then the gun went off for the pro males, then, pro females, and then we started our slow walk to the bleacher entry to the water.
|I was actually in really good spirits at this point.
I start my watch and jump in. HOLY FUCK STICKS THE WATER IS FREEZING. WHY DID I WEAR A SLEEVELESS WETSUIT?! ok ok, calm down. It's just cold. you're fine. BUT IT'S REALLY COLD. you'll be ok, and you've got an hour plus in here, so deal with it. calm down. OK. OK. oh neat, my wetsuit has an air bubble in the chest. It's super floaty. It's like I'm swimming with a buoy. Hey self? yes. I gotta pee. ok, so pee. But I'll have to stop swimming. Will you? Try keeping your arms moving, but relax everything else. ok ok. I'm doing it!! I'm doing it!! I can pee and swim at the same time! yes, congratulations, you're able to piss yourself.
That happened a couple more times over the course of the time I was in the water. The swim was relatively uneventful other than the two or three times I had to swim over people that I didn't realize were right in front of me (because their caps were black instead of the bright green or pink and they had seeded themselves too aggressively) but mainly I spent the time focused on remaining calm and relaxed.
I came to the bleachers, a volunteer pulled me out of the water, I hit my lap button (an hour 10?! I went too fast. Oh shit) and then looked for someone to peel my wetsuit. You can see in my pictures I was pretty confused by this whole process.
|Which way do I go? This way? Body says that way. But head says a different way.
I jogged through transition (seeing Mike and Laura cheering for me as I went - very cool), got my bike bag, and went into the changing tent. I spent a chunk of the time just trying to warm up, calm down, and not forget anything. Thankfully I had my checklist in my bike bag. :) Checked everything off, got my bike, got to the mount line and got underway.
I spent a good chunk of the first half hour on the bike telling myself to calm down and back off. This had been Steve Kern's advice to me - "no matter how easy you think you're going on the bike, back off a bit." I knew I was just aiming for completing it, so I wasn't too concerned that everyone in the entire race was passing me. I also had to pee, and being very excited about my new peeing-while-moving accomplishment from the swim, tried to do the same on the bike. Well, moving your arms and relaxing your pee muscles is WAY easier than moving your legs and relaxing your pee muscles. Wasn't going to happen (and good, because peeing yourself out of the water and on your bike is just gross.) so I pulled into an aid station, pit stopped, and was back on my way. I say all this because "low and slow" was my mantra for the day. "Do whatever you need to to be comfortable" which meant stopping if I had to, eating if I had to, walking if I had to, etc etc. Thankfully this also helped minimize the actual need to do any of that. I spent the first loop mainly taking it all in. A woman right before the swim had told me the Beeline on the bike was an 11 mile ride out, and that actually helped me during the race estimate how far I had to go each leg.
Towards the end of the first loop, I was getting a little concerned because I hadn't seen Winnie at all. Was she ok? Did she get hurt? She isn't slow, so I definitely should have seen her after the turnaround. Nothing I can do about it, but I hope she's ok.
After the first loop I hear and see Mike a Laura cheering for me again. They were so great throughout the day. I start back out, thinking "that wasn't so bad. 37 miles? I can totally do that 2 more times."
|37 miles down, only *sigh* 75 to go.
Five minutes after the halfway point of the second loop, Winnie calls out going the other direction. Whew, she's ok and if I'm five minutes after the turn around, that means she's only 5 minutes before the turn around, that puts her only about 10 minutes behind me. Whew.
I stop at special needs, applied more chamois cream (my ass started hurting about 15 miles in. I still had a looooong way to go with a hurt ass), ate a bar, and resumed the ride.
At the end of the second loop, I see Mike and Laura again (yay!) and I start back out thinking "oh my god. Another 37 miles?"
By this point, the crowd on road had started to thin, even more so by the time I got halfway through the third loop. Then I started to get a little bummed. "Everyone else is done" kept creeping into my thoughts. I had been averaging 16mph, which is really slow for me, but had stayed there so I had something for the run. I thought, "I have 18 miles to go, at 16mph, eff me that means I have another hour and probably 10 minutes on the bike." *sigh*
|Bored bored bored
I finally pull into the finish area, seven hours after starting the bike. Easily the longest I've ever been on a continuous ride. I jog through transition, see Latisha and give her a kiss, and go into the changing tent. Again, going through my checklist and a guy comments "you got a checklist in there? That's a great idea!"
|I wrote in some inspiration after printing this.
Well yeah bud, that's why I did it. I put my running stuff on and head out.
If you've read my posts before, I lament the run. I die out about a half mile in and just have a terrible time. I think part of that is I start out running a good pace, look at my watch and get nervous I'm going too fast, so I back off, which in turn kills my momentum. This time, I wasn't going to let that happen.
I started on the run "just going for a jog." I didn't let myself look at my watch, I just ran as comfortably as possible. Not slow, not fast, just comfortable. This was key. AND HOLY SHIT I FEEL GREAT! I mean, I'm tired, sure, but nowhere near as tired and run down as I have been in the half IMs I've done.
I get through the first mile and I start walking to read my first card. *pause* Given all the trouble the run has given me in the past, I asked people to write me inspiring or funny things so I could read them on the run. Latisha - bless her - collected them all and laminated them so they would survive the sweat and water I will inevitably dump over my head. All in all I had ~30 so I figured I'd read one every mile or if I needed additional inspiration.
|Soooo many great motivators!
*unpause* The first one was from my parents. It said "Go Patrick Go!! Imagine you are wearing your yellow cape - you are like the wind! You are fulfilling your childhood dream -- you ARE a super hero! Love you." *pause* when I was a kid, about 4 or 5, I ran around my house all the time in this threadbare, ratty yellow blanket pretending I was a superhero. My mom says I called myself "underwear man" but I dispute that. *unpause* So now I'm in the middle of my Ironman and start tearing up. Nope nope nope! Let's start running again! So off I ran, feeling great albeit choked up.
|Early in the race (because it's still daylight)
Repeat this for about 25 more miles. Actually, let's pause around mile 6. I was feeling super unwell. My stomach, I mean. Thinking I would need to stretch my custom hydration out until I got to my run special needs bag, I made my hydration super concentrated. Even though this has worked fine in training, I hadn't spent so much time relying on it (i.e., during a 7 hour bike ride and an hour-plus run) and at this point, my stomach was super queasy. So I stopped and tried to ... take a break, but to no avail. TMI ahead... you've been warned... turn back... basically I just farted a bunch - like A LOT - but felt WAY better. I tell you this, dear reader, because not only was Nov. 20th my first Ironman, it was also my first time trying to poop (albeit unsuccessfully) in a port-a-john. So now we've shared that.
Back to the story. I get back on my way and things are pretty good (other than my previous stomach troubles). Run to an aid station, walk it, read a note, repeat. Around mile 10, I ran into Steve Kern as he was walking up the lone big hill on the course. It was his second loop of the run, so he only had ~5k more to go, but he walked with me nonetheless for a bit. After about 4 or so minutes of chit chat, he headed off the finish, and I picked up my pace a little bit and kept going. I started my second loop and realized, "oh wow, this is literally the furthest I've ever run" (I'd only ever done a half marathon before this), which was in and of itself, kinda cool because I still felt great and generally positive. Speaking of "feeling great," throughout the rest of the run, Mike would periodically appear and check in, asking me how I felt. My response was always "great" but secretly it was always "better" when I saw him and the gang cheering. That said, the rest of the run was what you'd expect a marathon to be - a lot of steady, uneventful running.
As I approached the finish chute, I told myself "enjoy this, you've earned it." I tried to give the person in front of me space so they could have their moment in the spotlight to themselves, and make sure no one was behind me so I could have mine, but as we turn the corner to actually go in the chute, the guy in front of me broke off to talk to some people. I couldn't - I wouldn't - stop, so I jogged past him. Picking up the pace was actually a bad thing. Because upon picking up the pace, and seeing the lights, and hearing the crowd, and seeing hands out for high fives, and OH MY GOD I'VE DONE IT, I started running. I couldn't help it. I just ran 26.2 miles? You wouldn't know it because my legs felt FANTASTIC. I HAVE ALL THE ENERGY IN THE WORLD. And then I hear Alice and Latisha and Mike yelling my name and I see them and speed up even more. I can't help it! Everyone's there cheering FOR ME. And then Mike Reilly says "Patrick Myers of Los Angeles! Come on home Pat, you did it buddy!" and DAMN IT, I *DID* DO IT. And I start tearing up. I'm totally going to ugly cry and they're going to take my picture of my stupid ugly cry face and that's going to be my Ironman picture for forever.
|Ugly cry face
Well, it happened. And they did. And that's my face. But I almost don't care because holy shit, I'm an Ironman.
There's more to write - about how Latisha met me after and swapped out my gross hat with my Ironman hat that I bought at Vineman 70.3 but wouldn't wear until I finished the full because I thought I'd jinx it, and how Winnie finished about 15 minutes later and we ate a lot and got massages from volunteers and how all our support people (Latisha, Alice, Joyce, Veronica, Jesus, Mike, and Laura) were just amazing and patient and waited for us while it was drizzling, and how Latisha had already gotten my bike and all my bags and had taken them back to the hotel so I wouldn't have to worry about anything after the race, but honestly, I will never finish this if I keep adding so we'll end here. This was my story.
I'll close with this: After Arizona 70.3, I was done for the season; I didn't want to be an Ironman. I was burned out and had had a miserable race. But the full? Well, I had such an incredible experience, supported by so many amazing people (especially my I-can't-say-it-enough amazing wife), I would absolutely do this again. But Winnie would have to do it too. One team, one dream!