If Triathlon is a solo event, why can’t I do it alone?
Pre Race Days
While I really wanted to ‘take it all in’ and be a part of the action, I was most concerned with staying calm. To date, I had not felt real anxious or nervous and I wanted to maintain that feeling. I went through all the cursory requirements, got my numbers, chip, goodie bag, walked through the expo once and that’s about it. Angie was the biggest trooper and waited with me in every line. It was nice to have company and a distraction that was not related to swim/bike/run – we talked about everything but that really. She was even my date to the pre-race dinner and racers meeting on Thursday. Thankfully, she had her Crackberry and was able to stay entertained. The cheerleading part was fine for a while, then, I just wanted to go to bed. If you see her, ask her the difference between cauliflower and chicken. It’s just too good not to share. Anyway, one thing I still don’t understand is why it took some people forever for bike check in. I took my bags to the designated spots, put my bike on its rack space, covered seat and computer with a bag and took off. People were just hanging out in there doting over their bikes. What WERE they doing in there? Even when everyone showed up on Friday nite for dinner – Ryan, Chris, Dad, Aunt Marilyn and Uncle Bob – I wasn’t too jacked up. I don’t know if people believed me or not because everyone just kept asking, are you nervous? I really wasn’t.
Race Day – Saturday, November 1, 2008 – Ironman Florida
Got up early, like everyone, had a couple wheat-free waffles, an egg white, a little coffee, water, grabbed all my crap lined up at the door and rolled to body marking. I dropped off my special needs bags and heard some fellow Excel teammates yelling my name. I think I saw Judy before I heard her. She looked like she was at a dance party, jumping up and down. Again, she was very excited. They were body marking volunteers. I got numbered and a hug (that was nice) and headed in to my bike for a last check, drop my fluids in and pump up the tires. I did all that and wanted to see my family before this day got started. The best kept secret is that all the hotels/condos are open on race morning…why the hell would I stand in line for a toilet that doesn’t flush (port o potty) when I can have a nice warm place with real soap to wash my hands!?! Everyone has nervous guts at this point (except for me, apparently), enough said. We hung in the lobby of the Boardwalk with Chris, Angie, Ryan, Dad, Aunt Marilyn and Uncle Bob. I’m pretty sure they were nervous enough for me. I could see it in their eyes…or maybe they were just tired? Who ‘likes’ to get up before 6:00am, really? Either way, we made our way to the beach. I’m sure I was getting quiet at this point which is most certainly NOT like me. I just kept scanning, scanning, scanning the water and the crowd for ‘my people’ – other participants and cheerleaders. For whatever reason, they made me feel more secure. I think when my feet hit the sand is when it hit me, this is really going to happen, Ironman is here. Holy crap. I still didn’t get too emotional or scared, just excited really. I mean, I spent a year getting ready and this was actually the reward for all that work. I just knew I could put it all together, but how fast? I saw Jere, Mark, Andy, Ken, Nick, Tom, Maura, Dee, Abby, Kris, Rebecca, Jill, Stephanie and Lana. Being there with them made me still think this was a good idea. I think at the point I shuffled my way through the swim corral was when my nerves, my excitement hit me. We shuffled, national anthem, a few hugs, cannon was off, hit my watch and worked my way to the water.
I may be a decent swimmer but I tend to have open water anxiety. I swam this loop a few days before and was fine. However, the Ironman swim was the piece that concerned me the most – not the fact that I could swim the distance – I didn’t spend every freakin Sunday at the lake swimming ~2.5 miles for nothing. It was the bodies, all those bodies hitting, smacking, kicking. I had a plan. I was going to swim on the inside of the buoys and then make the turns where required. Well, hell, you can NOT call that first loop of the Florida Ironman a swim at all (unless you’re fast enough to have clear water ahead), it was water derby. I should have practiced my doggie paddle with my head up more rather than all those hours of actual swimming. I think I got about two strokes for each time I had to pull up my head and look around. The water itself felt good. It was a nice temperature and very calm. It was just flying arms and legs, though. I felt like I was trapped in a washing machine with all my friends. I got kicked so hard in the mouth on that first lap that I had to check to ensure all my teeth were in place. They were and no blood, sweet. There’s really nothing like seeing land after the orgy that is the swim at Ironman Florida. BUT only for a second. You got to get right back in for loop #2. When I picked up my head, I saw Angie standing in the water with her camera. I smiled and then saw my Dad with Marilyn and Bob nearby. Waves all around, grabbed my gel that I had stashed in my boobs, ate it (the gel part), grabbed a cup of water and got back in. JOY, pure joy, the crowd had spaced out and I could actually swim. This was a novel idea. I just swam and tried to take in as little salt water as possible. I must have taken in enough to make my mouth a little raw but whatever. What can you do? I just got to swim that final lap and that was a huge treat because it calmed me back down. I didn’t want to go through that again. As I approached the last buoy, all I could think of was one down, two to go. What a treat. I got my wetsuit half off, hit the wetsuit strippers, asked them for a cigarette since they just ripped my clothes off and headed up the beach to T1. Got to see my people again which is just so damn nice when you’re out there.
This did not go as I had hoped. Apparently, they were out of volunteers to help at this point so I had to get my own bag, get undressed, make an attempt at getting the sand out of every crack and crevice…I was not successful. The hardest part was getting those cycling clothes onto a wet body. I did get some volunteer help in getting that sports bra on…it was choking me, I swear. Threw all that wet crap back into the bag and ran out for some sunscreen. The poor lady standing in front of me didn’t know what hit her – she slapped on some white gu onto my shoulders. I looked at her and said we’re friends now, right? She nodded with her little surgical gloves on and I opened up the front of my jersey for some sunscreen on my neck and chest. I looked like I had on a bad Halloween costume – sleeveless jersey + arm warmers and white gu all over me. I headed to my bike, grabbed it, got stuck in the mount area with people who don’t know how to get clipped into their pedals and did everything I could to get the f out of there. If they can’t clip in, then they certainly can’t have the greatest skills on the planet. I’m not getting taken down by some joker.
I knew this would be the longest part so I tried to just settle in and not get too excited about anything – the wind, the peletons, the blocking and every other penalty you can imagine. I just picked a gear, then went one easier and rolled on. I would not fight the wind or a hill just knowing that there was a damn marathon ahead. I had two things to look forward to on the bike – special needs and my family and friends in the 50-70 mile range. At mile one I had to pee, as I passed each port o john on course, there was a line. While I wasn’t going to set any cycling record, I didn’t want to take that kind of time. The guys were just peeing everywhere and thanks to the guy in front of me peeing while he was on his bike…jeeze, you could’ve given me some kind of warning to get the hell out of the way rather than take on your pee spray. So, I held it, thinking that a UTI would be a small price to pay at this point. Between the pending UTI I was sure to get, all I could think about was all the sand that was rubbing me in all the wrong places – in my drawers and under my sports bra. I stopped for my special needs bag at ~50 mile marker, grabbed my peanut butter and honey sandwich and slammed half a coke and took off. With sandwich in hand, I tried to eat. I got most of it down; just knowing it was a must even though I didn’t really want it. I think one of the course photographers got a picture of me and my sandwich or a mouthful, not sure yet. After that, I had another milestone to look forward too, ‘my people’ were just up ahead (we planned it in advance so I knew they were close by). I’m not sure if I heard or saw them first but Andy, Ken, Nick, Stephanie and Danella were all there going nuts. It was SO very nice. I also knew this was my chance – I set my bike on their car and dropped my drawers. A pee never felt so good. I know it wasn’t ‘legal’ but I just HAD to go. Ken was afraid to touch my bike (outside assistance) but I’m pretty sure he stood there on one leg holding it up with his other leg. I didn’t even make it to the woods, just the edge of their car and peed on the wheel (sorry guys but I couldn’t wait). Ever have a pee actually put a smile on your face…it was that kind. I know they were all talking and telling me I was doing great. I really didn’t know how I was doing since my POLAR bike computer was on the fritz. Got back on my bike and was wondering where Ryan, Angie and Chris were? I thought they’d all be clustered together and then I had the most incredible sadness, they didn’t make it, they didn’t make out to the course, they were late, got stopped, something. I really was bummed out and THEN I looked up at the next aid station and saw all of them – my hands were in the air so they knew it was me (it’s so hard to tell people apart at 18-20mph). They were yelling but I was still confused. Angie is bigger than life so I saw her first, she was front and center, camera in hand. Then I looked around and saw Ryan on one side of the street with a Gatorade and Chris on the other with water in his hand??? (Post race I learned that they were all drafted into the aid station nearby. Apparently, the volunteers just didn’t quite have it together, how to pass off etc. Chris and Ryan to the rescue!) Family was there too, cheering me on. It’s hard to put the feeling into words. I pride myself in ‘being able to take care of myself’ – call it the only child syndrome – but I just have always been OK with alone time and sixish hours on a bike is a lot of alone time. I trained for that, being alone in my head with my thoughts. BUT there is NOTHING like that kind of boost at that point in the day. It was just the best, the lift I needed for the end of that ride. Just to see their faces…After seeing them, I lived on that high for ~20 miles and then I was done. I was over the bike, the sand in my crotch, the sand in my bra and my neck that was on fire. I squirmed, adjusted and moved around a bunch in those last ~40 miles or so. With the wind at my back, I took advantage of that feature and rolled on. I could see condo row. I was so close that I could taste it, pass the restaurants, pass the condos, pass the t-shirt and airbrush shop, I’m there, I’m there. OMG, it was like the angels were singing, ahhhh, off this effen bike. It felt fantastic to get my feet back on the ground. Ryan asked me post race – what were you feeling/thinking when you got off the bike? Was it, holy crap, there’s a marathon ahead or I’m so happy to be off the bike and do something different? The answer IS – happy to be off the bike and do something different. I didn’t obsess about the marathon. I just wanted to get feet on land.
Got my bag and wanted to work on getting the sand off me. The nicest young little girl was ‘assigned’ to help me. We chatted a little and they are raising money for their school – NA Sports must give money to the various volunteer groups. She was great, unpacked my bag and laid everything out so I could choose what I wanted. I opted NOT to change my sports bra with all the sand (wrong decision) and put on nice, dry, comfy run clothes.
I trotted out and saw my Dad, Aunt and Uncle first thing. The looked surprised and said, we didn’t expect you so soon and I moved on. My guts were flipping. I didn’t want to take any food or fluid in just yet because I wasn’t feeling so good. I pushed on. I saw Chris, Angie and Ryan at mile 4 and all I could think at this point is that this is going to be the longest run of my life. I stopped to talk to them for a minute and I’m sure they thought the same thing, uh oh. We have a problem here. I saw Ken, Andy, Nick and crew just before that but I don’t know what I said, I wasn’t feeling good at all. I had to adjust my fluid and nutritional plan. I could not take in one more damn gel so I started on water, Gatorade and other buffet items they had to offer (banana, orange, grapes, pretzels). My guts were still funky so I stopped at the port o john – never trust a fart, I always say and now is the time to heed my own warning. Thankfully, that’s all it was. Mmm, I’m feeling better. OK, I can do this. Chug, chug, chug. I chose a ‘gear’ I felt I could maintain all day long, chug, chug, chug. I walked the aid stations and grabbed some buffet items and forged on. I looked at the pain in those that were turning back on this two loop run, they were hauling ass. Certainly, they were on their second loop already and heading home to the finish lined – they must be or they wouldn’t be shooting their wad like that or would they? Chug, chug, chug. At mile 9ish, there they were again, Ryan, Chris and Angie and I was feeling tons better. Angie ran with me for a minute which was really nice to talk to a friend. We also came up with a plan for the finish. Side note, I never got into any real conversations on the run, I didn’t meet anyone really. Approaching that finish line in daylight is neat but not for me, I had to turn around and head back out for my second loop. Thankfully, I was still feeling good, as good as you can imagine. I turned back, picked up my special needs bag, pulled out my gloves and took off my sunglasses, handed my bag back to the family so I could keep some of my gear! Knowing it’s my last lap was all I needed, the end is near. I saw the Nashville crew again at mile 15-16 and they went wild and then looked perplexed. Andy ran next to me for a couple of minutes and asked if I felt as good as I looked, actually, yes, I do feel good. I think they were perplexed because I wasn’t so good the last time they saw me. I remember him being there on my shoulder for a few minutes and that was nice…he’s usually running a few yards ahead of me and this time he was just with me. I don’t know if I talked a lot but I do remember telling him that I felt good, better than before. He was happy for me, er, maybe he was just drunk?!? Chug, chug, chug past all the fun cheering sections, past all the fun and cheerful volunteers and into the nite. Running into that park at nite, it’s what I imagine hell to be like. At this point, no one is talking and all you hear are running shoes hitting the ground and an occasional fart – I’m such a kid that it still makes me laugh, the old man walking farts. Then it happens, mile 21, I’m officially in the 20’s, hell yeah. This is working, chug, chug, chug. I didn’t walk the whole way, other than the aid stations to eat. I didn’t want to walk, just wanted to keep on moving, I couldn’t have the walk ‘happen to me.’ (Richard worked on this for me very hard, do NOT let it happen to you.) Everyone around me is walking and I’m just forging on. These are the same people that were flying by me earlier and now they’ve resorted to walking. My plan worked! My feet are sore, my neck hurts, I can feel the blisters on my feet, mile 22. I hook up with two people chatting like it’s a walk in the park and I hook on to them. They were so nice. It was pitch black and all I could say was I’m really a nice person but I can’t talk right now, can I hang with you? They pulled me in, didn’t make me talk and I ran with them. They would check on me just to see if I was OK and all I could muster was yes, I’m OK, just tired. Mile 23, a 5K to go, this may be the slowest 5K of my life but I got it in the bag. Mile 24, the slingshot, I can see it above my head lighting the nite. Mile 25, drunk cheerleaders, lots of them yelling my name, high fives all around (I even told the guy my hands/gloves were full of boogers and he didn’t even care), Nashville crew leaning over the fence so far I thought they were going to fall. I look up and see the arch, the finish line and now it’s my turn. I thought I’d get all choked up but I was on the ‘other side’ – I was so thrilled and excited that I couldn’t stop smiling, yelling, cheering, arms in the air, finish line at 12:20, hell yes! Wow, this is what it’s like. #2207, Jennifer Hulbert from Franklin, TN, YOU are an Ironman. YES I AM and I wouldn’t change a thing.
Lessons I learned along the way and the things I did that worked…besides training, that goes without saying…
Stayed calm the whole way, didn’t get too excited, that just = wasted energy. Reign in the energy and use it when you really need it.
Since I wasn’t freaked out, I got good sleep every nite before the race and even Friday nite before the race.
I refused to ‘do math’ all day long and try to figure out when I was going to finish. I had an idea of when I needed to be where but I was not trying to get it down to the minute. I decided on the front end that I wanted to take it all in and enjoy the day (advice from Andy). Part of that meant not doing math all day long trying to figure out when I’d finish.
I also refused to worry about things outside my control – weather, bike mechanicals, etc. The only thing I could do was be prepared for those things and not fret, fretting would get me nowhere. Stick to your plan, adjust when necessary and keep moving forward no matter what. You’re only excuse is if you’re being hauled away in an ambulance – otherwise, you’re moving forward (Thanks Triswami!).
Do some of your long workouts, rides, runs, bricks solo (Ken’s advice) - you have to train the mind and the body for this very long day. I knew when my mind would ‘go’ on me and I also knew how to manage it when it did.
Finally, maybe the biggest lesson that I learned, I DO need people. I need MY people, my family, my friends and even kind strangers. While I can be very bullheaded and don’t like to show weakness or my ‘need’ for others, I DO need them. I needed all of them along the way, in training and during the race, all for different reasons. I needed Ryan to just help me keep the rest of my life on track through all of this. I needed my training partners to answer every stupid question I had regarding Ironman and give me their $.02 along the way. Oh, and to keep me honest and make me show up when I didn’t want to. I needed my family, my Dad, Aunt, Uncle, cousins in my corner just to hold me up. I needed my friends to give me the reprieve from training when I needed it and to allow me to be me. I am very proud of the fact that I have surrounded myself with people that I can be myself with 100% of the time. While I DO know what’s appropriate and when, it’s just nice to be yourself, not the edited version, just you and they like you anyway.
I’m lucky, I’m grateful, I’m still a little tired and sore but more than anything, I am an Ironman.
Will you do it again? Did you sign up for next year? How are you feeling, mentally, physically? These are just a few questions that have been thrown at me and the answers are –
Yes, I will probably do it again, someday.
I did NOT sign up for next year. While it was an amazing experience and I loved and hated the training all at the same time, I’m not ready to make the decision to do it again. I need to get some balance back into my life. The problem is, I don’t know what that means any longer. I don’t know what I DID before I did this!?! I have to spend some time to figure out what I’m supposed to do now. I’m going to take the dogs for a walk and find a place for yoga. That sounds like a great plan right. I just don’t know what people do with all their time.
Mentally, I’m trying to wrap my brain around what just happened. Did I really do that? Yes, but it still doesn’t seem real. I will never forget the arch, the finish line and that feeling.
Physically, I just want to eat and sleep. The problem is, I’m exhausted but I can’t sleep. I sleep for a while and then I’m awake and I’m fidgety. My everything is just a little sore but I can navigate stairs just fine.
Now the question becomes, now what? I’m not sure of the answer but I’ll let you know if I figure it out.