"Obstacles don't have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don't turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it."
-- Michael Jordan
As I made my way onto Ali, I could see a massive amount of spectators. Complete strangers cheering my name as if they had supported me throughout my entire Ironman journey. I felt as if the fans had been waiting for me, almost as if they knew about my rough day but believed in me that I could finish.
You see, the journey of the Ironman ends when you make it to the Ironman starting line. Once the gun goes off for an Ironman, you enter a completely different state of mind. Your body and mind will flood with emotions and thoughts and you begin 140.6 miles of self-talk. Despite 1800 other athletes out on the course with you, it is up to you, your body and your mind to make it to the finishing line.
Certainly you are putting your training to the test and using the skills (both mental and physical) that you developed to prepare for the race, but most Ironman athletes would agree that on Ironman race day, you are required to enter a place that is un-trainable.
"The finish line is sometimes merely the symbol of victory. All sorts of personal triumphs take place before that point, and the outcome of the race may actually be decided long before the end."
As I was nearing the finishing chute, I tried to bottle up all the feelings that were with me on my 140.6 mile Kona experience, in order to carry them with me until I crossed the line. The thoughts of shuffling my way down the 2007 Ironman World Championship chute, in agonizing pain, stayed with me for a moment but then went away. All those stops in the port-o-potty (I'm thinking at least 5 stops), were a distance memory. As I thought about my quads seizing up in the last 3 miles, this suddenly became a past thought as my body amazingly felt rejuvenated. A fantastic PR on the bike, after experiencing the most exhausting and brutal swim of my life - well, that one stayed with me. Running consistent 8-8:30 min/miles throughout much of the marathon, despite having to stop to relieve my tummy - well, that was the best feeling in the world. Knowing that I spent the last 14 weeks focusing on what I CAN do, allowed Karel to design the best possible training plan for THIS current time in my life.
I entered this Ironman in the best shape possible, with 14 weeks of training and an entirely new outlook on life and how to be a balanced athlete. With only 1 "triathlon" under my belt in the last 13 months (IMWI in Sept 2010, where I qualified for Kona), I continued running closer to the finishing line and I remembered telling my best friend Jennifer in March "I am so tired of all these hip problems and I am just too stressed and overwhelmed with my internship. I think I am going to retire from the Ironman and not do Kona....I just don't know how to balance it all."
Despite swallowing a vast amount of the Pacific Ocean, which lead to my unfortunate tummy problems, I felt like I was about to cross my first ever Ironman finishing line..the feeling was indescribable. I saw my mom just before I entered the finishing chute and she yelled "I'm so proud of you!!". I couldn't help but feel water in my eye..and it wasn't from the Pacific. I was over the moon that I had made it 26.2 miles, let alone 140.6 miles. With the biggest smile on my face, the 11:02.14 finishing time felt like I had just won the race.
"You also need to look back, not just at the people who are running behind you but especially at those who don't run and never will...those who run but don't race...those who started training for a race but didn't carry through...those who got to the starting line but didn't get to the finish line...those who once raced better than you but no longer run at all. You're still here. Take pride in wherever you finish. Look at all the people you've outlasted." - Joe Henderson
As I saw my time and entered the line, I jumped in the air - something that I have never done before. Typically I hold my hands up high when I cross the line, but I felt the feeling of "I did it" around mile 20. Nothing was going to stop me..not even an upset tummy, horrible quad pain or the voices in my head telling me to stop.
After crossing the finishing line, I bent over in relief...with a sore body. The volunteers, as always, were amazing and walked me over to get my medal and t-shirt. The medal was TOTALLY worth it - AMAZING!!! I found my parents and Karel and they all told me how proud of me they were. I suppose I couldn't help but give them the look of "well, I tried my best...but I wish...." but Karel was quick to stop me saying anything when he said "Marni, I am so proud of you. I really thought that was it at mile 2 of the marathon. I don't know how you did it. You just kept on moving. And wow - what a bike time!".
I grabbed a "heat blanket" and took my finishing pic and after Karel and myself grabbing my bike and transition bags (IM gives you a ticket so a family member can enter transition after the race to get your belongings) we eventually made our way back to the condo.
I can't thank my family enough for spending ALL day on the race course. My parents started their day with body marking and Karel even managed 5000 feet of climbing during my race.
After a piece of pizza, a few glasses of milk and a Hammer Fizz (to get back my electrolytes), I showered, put on compression and rested my tired body. Around 10:30 it was time to head back to the finish line to give some cheers to the last hour of finishers.
Once again, thank you everyone for your support. A big thanks to Hammer Nutrition, 110% Play Harder, the Trek Store of Jacksonville (aka - hubby for his magic on my bike) and Oakley Women. Also, to Louis Garneau clothing (a big fan of them!) for making the BEST clothing ever!!!
I suppose many athletes consider a PR finishing time the best way to validate "success" in sport. In other words, in the case of an Ironman, to improve your time for 140.6 miles, you have confirmed that every ounce of your training "worked". Perhaps we need to take a step back and realize that 140.6 miles is a LONG way. So much training, dedicated to one event. For me, I am just like everyone else that I love seeing a personal best time, knowing that I gave it my all. But in an Ironman, getting to the starting line is the successful part...the finish, well, that is just an added bonus. Purely, a dream come true.