Friday, September 25, 2009


The other day out race numbers were posted on the Ironman website. I'm number 1450. A bunch of folks were posting their race numbers on Facebook and it was all very exciting. I made an off-hand comment about how I hoped my race number didn't predict my finish time. Lol.

Of course that could have been interpreted as insensitive to anyone who has a finishing time of 14+ hours for an Ironman. But of course I didn't mean it to be! Any finishing time at all for any Ironman is certainly something to be very proud of. And it got me thinking... back to my proudest Ironman finish... the one where I crossed the line in 14:21.

We'll start the story back in 1996. I was finishing up my second season of triathlons. 23 years old with a major crush on this HOT guy who also did triathlons... long story short (though I know this is the part of the story everyone wants to hear!) a couple of beers at a bar later and we were entered in Ironman Canada for the following year. (Ahhhh... the good old days... when you could enter Canada in November because it didn't sell out in 12 hours like it does now.)

I called up my brother, Jamie, who had also done a couple of triathlons, and convinced him to enter. He called his BFF from 3rd grade, Brian, and convinced him to enter.

Fast forward 6 months or so... my body clearly wasn't ready for that kind of training mileage and I ended up injured. Surprise surprise! Knees hurting a ton so I really wasn't riding my bike or running much at all. Another huge surprise? The HOT guy and I broke up (um, he turned out to be a jerk. Shocker.) so he wasn't even going to Canada to race. BUT, my brother and Brian and I were still gonna give it a try. Like the Three Muskateers.

Back in those days, I don't think Triathlon Coaches existed. We knew nothing about nutrition and hydration and recovery and all that. It was just like, "I wonder if I can complete that distance? That's a long way to go." And seriously, I really didn't know if I could do it.

I was scared to death at the start, but when the cannon fired off I went at it at hard as I could. I'd been swimming a lot (remember I said I hadn't been biking and running? So I swam. A lot.) I battled people that whole darn swim, but came out (unknowingly) as one of the top 10 women overall, including the pros. HA! I found out later how I was placed after the swim and then kicked myself for stopping to pee in the water before crossing the timing mat.

Off on the bike. It was easy for the first 40 miles- all downhill that course- and then you turn and start climbing Richter Pass. My computer said I was going 7 mph. And this was a 7 mile climb. Doing the math, I settled in for a long climb. I stopped to pee a couple times. I stopped for my special needs bag at like 75 miles or wherever that was, sat down on the side of the road and ate my peanut butter and jelly sandwich and drank my Sunny Delight juice. YES. I did that. What did I know? It was a long day and a girl's gotta eat lunch, right? I also had my Nutter Butters for dessert.

Back on the bike, my knee was hurting pretty badly. I had never ridden this far before and had it in my head that maybe I wouldn't be able to do it. And at the mile 90 aid station- right before the Yellow Lake climb, I stopped and told the people at the aid station that I wanted to drop out. They called for a support van to come pick me up.

So I waited. And waited. Like 20 minutes went by and still no van. I was getting impatient. I asked one of the volunteers at that aid station how long the climb was. She told me it was 3K. She lied, but I didn't know that at the time. I figured I could pedal one-legged up that climb and then I knew the last 20 miles into town were pretty much downhill so I could coast a lot. Riding in would be quicker than waiting for that darn van. I would drop out of the race once I get done with the bike.

So I finished the bike and then I swear this part is all a big blur. Someone took my bike and led me to the change tent where these women just took control and dressed me in my running clothes and tied my shoes on my feet and stood me up and pushed me out the exit of the tent. I remember repeating, "I don't feel like running a marathon right now..." several times and they kept telling me that I was doing great and I'd be fine. I stumbled out of that tent with a bagel in one hand and potato chips in the other and onto the marathon course.

For future reference, be assured that those ladies in the T2 tent KNOW that you don't feel like running a marathon at that point and seriously must be trained to ignore you when you tell them so.

So there I was, walking out of T2, when I vaguely remember the announcer saying something to the crowd about cheering me on to get me running. I obeyed the orders of the announcer and took a couple running steps and (in my own mind anyway) the whole crowd went wild. I remember thinking in my daze, "Wow. They really want me to run."

So off I went. To my complete surprise, I was able to run! I plodded along for about 13 miles and then right near the turn around I stopped in one of those lovely port-a-potties to pee. Um, holy cow it hurt to squat. My knees both felt THRASHED.

At that point, I was 13 miles from the finish line, which didn't really seem that far in the context of the day. My knees were done running, so I started walking. I walked. And walked. And walked. Every step brought me closer to that finish line. And after 14 hours and 21 minutes, cross the finish line I did! Totally in tears of disbelief! I did it! I was an Ironman. I got my tatoo the next day. :)

Jamie and Brian also finished in 15+ hours. Jamie waited for Brian to get out of the water, they did the bike together, sat in a hot tub at T2 for a while, and then Jamie went ahead on the run when Brian stopped on the side of the road to take a nap and to get a massage at some point.

Those were the days, eh? I suspect my day in Kona will be quite different from that day 12 years ago in Canada. First of all, Jen would kill me if I stopped for PB+J and Sunny D on the bike... but an IM finish is an IM finish and I hope I'm as proud of this finish as I was of that one.


IronMatron said...

That is such a great story. Congrats on that first IM finish! It was inspiring to read about it.
The nutrition part made me think of my first marathon--Boston as a bandit in '97. (Of course an open marathon is nothing to an IM, but still!) I did the whole marathon on water. That's it. Gel existed,but it wasn't common yet to use it, and I had no friends in the know. I thought you just needed water to get through it! i bet that pb and j and sunny delight allowed you to finish! :)

Ah... times have changed.
You're an amazing athlete.

N.D. said...

that is such a great story for sure!! How persistent and I love the stop for lunch, hahaha.

Roo said...

Greatest race story ever. If I ever do an Ironman, I think I'll have Sunny D and PBJ just to remember that story.

Angela said...

Lovely. I love this post. Laughing slightly but thinking to myself at the same time "hey pb&j, not a bad idea."

You rock.

Ange said...

this is just great. Such great stories about being ina daze and just 'following orders.'
Nutrition knowledge has come a long way hasn't it!!! (like Mary..I did my first marathon on only water too..didn't even consider having anything else. nuts)
Yes, Kona will be different. But its'Always an amazing accomplishment. I'm excited to meet you and hope we can see each other otu on the course.

GoBigGreen said...

That is a really fun neat story. Good to keep things in perspective and know that you can get thru ANYTHING after that!

X-Country2 said...

What a great story. When I do an IM in a few years and take a pb&j sandwich, I'll remember this. :o)

Angela and David Kidd said...

14:50 with all of the stopping and waiting you did is pretty amazing. It's very cool to read about how far you've come.

And only two years ago I ate cookies and pb&j on the bike and I didn't have the excuse about technology and nutrition, it's just what I liked.

Regina said...

That is such a great story! I loved it. Thanks for sharing it. Makes me wonder what mine will be like, if ever I get there.

Ordinarylife said...

What a great story.

Sounds more like the way I "race" Ironman. Everyone laughs at me, but I swear it is stopping for that peanut butter sandwich that gets me through the day.

MamaFeather said...

Wow. The phrase, 'You've come a long way, baby!' comes to mind!!! I've missed reading your blog lately and am happy to have such a great story to come back to. Hope your taper is going well!

TriGirl Kate O said...

Michelle, I love it! It's nice to know everyone's humble beginnings in the sport, and see you totally conquer and persevere to get to KONA. I can't wait to follow you girls next weekend. We need a Michelle-Marit-Ange picture on FB. BEST OF LUCK!