Why am I doing this? Why am I here? Why even bother?
These are the questions we come across everyday in our lives at some point.
Funny how these thoughts come across us while we are sitting at our desk; the pointless existence of our everyday lives.
And then on one Sunday morning, 1800 lunatics gather in a random city to attempt to find some meaning in life.
Funny how attempting to cross 140.6 miles on sheer human power adds meaning to your life.
Not deep meditation, not spiritual enlightenment, not some sort of transcendental experience.
There is something in pushing yourself physically that collapses everything you think about yourself.
The swim started well. I felt good, comfortable and calm. The water was reported at 45 degrees F, much colder than we expected. But I jumped in and made my way to the start line. The gun went off and there we went. It took about 15 minutes to find my place in the water, away from others and free to swim at my own pace.
My pace was solid and I felt very good. The turnaround came much sooner than I expected. Then the unthinkable happened.
My right calf cramped.
I was caught somewhere between panic and despair. I quickly remembered that my wetsuit would keep me afloat. The pain was more excruciating than usual. I looked over to my left and saw a lifeguard. For a moment, I thought about calling him over to me. Then another thought—I could get pulled from the race, and I would have covered less distance than last year.
Somehow, I managed to relax my leg by doing the breaststroke for a few minutes. And then I set off to complete the swim. The problem was that I couldn’t relax because I kept wondering when my leg would decide to cramp again. Fortunately, it didn’t. However, as I approached the final buoy and headed back to shore, I started wondering if my legs would be able to support me when I got out of the water.
Fortunately, volunteers are at hand to help pull you out of the water and up the steps. But once I was on my feet, I realized that the lower half of my right leg was useless. I also noticed that my left hamstring was cramping as well. After the wetsuit pull, I hobbled my way to the transition tent, wondering how I was going to ride the bike. I tried stretching my calf, but it didn’t help much. My only hope was that it would loosen on the bike.
The first loop of the bike course was miserable. I could not find a comfortable spot on the bike. My arms bothered me, my legs bothered me, and I couldn’t get comfortable on the seat. My new, extremely well-padded gloves seemed to be useless as well. My heart rate started out at 150 and never went lower. Things were not looking good.
I thought about quitting the bike ride 100 times yesterday—once for every mile. Somehow, I made my way to the top of the hill, grabbed some new Gatorade and talked to one of the volunteers for a moment. I told him if all went well, he would see me again. The way back to town was better, but not great. I had made up my mind to pull out after the first loop.
However, once I pulled into town, the excitement of the crowd and the announcer’s voice gave me a little extra push. There was no way I could bail out now. I decided that maybe the second loop would be better. And it was—for about 5 miles. Once the climb up the Beeline Highway began, I started feeling miserable again. But once again, I found my way at the top and even took a moment to chat with another volunteer at the Special Needs section. I picked up my new gel flask and moved on.
This time, as I started finishing the second lap, I decided that maybe I would quit then. But I looked at the clock and noticed that I was 45 minutes ahead of the cutoff time for the second loop. I decided that the only thing to do was to try to finish the third loop. Maybe I would get lucky and finish by 4:30pm, giving me 7.5 hours to finish the marathon.
It was a good thought, but the third loop did not go as easily as planned. In fact, it started getting very lonely as I started to realize that I might be the only one out there on the third loop. Yes, there were others coming back, but I kept wondering if there was anyone behind me. It was not until I reached that top of the hill the third time did I discover that there were two other women behind me. I was not alone.
At mile 100 I noticed that I had only 45 minutes to finish. I would need to stay about 15mph in order to make the cutoff. I found some strength hidden in some corner of my mind, and pushed. For the first time in the ride, I decided not to give up.
The last 12 miles were surreal. I was all alone. It was just me, the falling sun, and an open highway. I could see no one ahead of me, and I lost sight of the two women behind me. I imagined that this is what it must feel like to be in first place and have no one behind or ahead of you. But I was going to make it. I didn’t know if I would be able to do the run, but at least I would conquer the bike.
I pulled into town and headed down the small city loop that led back to the transition area. Someone shouted as I rounded the corner: “you’ve got 5 minutes.” I had a quarter of a mile to go. Only 400 yards, but it felt like forever. As I tore into the cycle chute, spectators were shouting for me to keep pedaling and once of the bike, to run.
I did not realize how damaged my legs were until I tried to run. But I crossed the timing mat with 1 minute to spare.
Pulling out of race is not an easy choice. And here I was, having to make the decision again. My asthma had flared up quite severely; in fact, I haven’t felt it this bad in years. The bottoms of my feet were sore. My thighs were sunburned to the point that moving my legs was painful. I sat in the transition tent searching for the last bit of will to get my feet moving again. And I kept staring at the clock.
I knew I could cover a marathon in 6.25 hours on fresh legs. But I only had 6.5 hours to officially finish and I could barely stand. And if I waited too long, I wouldn’t have enough time. I wanted to finish, but I also did not want to miss the cutoff. I need to cover the first two of three loops by 10pm in order to be allowed to continue. I stood up and took few steps. Between the pain in my legs and the wheezing in my chest, I knew that going on would not be a healthy decision.
So once again, I pulled out of the race.
But this time I finished the bike. I covered 114.4 miles of the Ironman. And only 26.2 miles to go.
The bike course was hard on me mentally. It is amazing how hard it is to ignore that voice in your head that tells you to quit. And this time it was louder than it has ever been before.
24 hours later, it still all feels like a dream. I’m back home in LA now and my tri bike is hanging on the wall again, with an additional 112 miles on it. The sunburns hurt, and my right calf is still acting up at times. But I’m breathing easily and am experiencing only mild muscle fatigue.
I covered 114.4 miles and I’m here to talk about.
Tomorrow, I’ll talk about the future…