02
Sep
18

Ironman

So, two weeks ago today, on August 19, 2018 at approximately 10:30 p.m., after 14 ½ hours of swimming, biking, and running, 30 +/- weeks of training, a calf strain, upper hamstring pull, menopause, cardiologist exam, root canal, Botox, and a couple good years of psychotherapy, I became an IRONMAN!Ironman

Yes, me. Little old me is now among the .01% of the population who has finished an IRONMAN! (***WARNING*** IRONMAN will now and forever be written in ALL CAPS as it is SUCH A BIG DEAL! If ALL CAPS offends you, well, that’s just too damn bad. I’m an IRONMAN now and I do what I want.)

And, for the record, I do not want or need the gender specific, #MeToo, Trump-era, P-word revisionist corruption of my hard-earned IRONMAN title. Yes, as far as I can tell, I am a woman. I am a 53 year-old woman who just completed her first IRONMAN. I passed one hell of a lot of men out there on that field and in our race there were a mere 600 +/- women to 2,200 +/- men. The event is called IRONMAN. A husband and wife team made it up back in the seventies. I understand man in this context to be the universal term for hu-MAN. With a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and 26.2 mile run, I am a f’ing IRONMAN! That’s what it should be called: F’ING IRONMAN! “MARCIA FROM LAKEVILLE – YOU ARE A F’ING IRONMAN!”

That I am an IRONMAN at all is still a bit of a shock to me. When I think of the entire distance as one thing, I just can’t make sense of it, never mind that I traveled it. The IRONMAN motto is: Anything is Possible. I truly believe this, by the way. Well, maybe not Wingardium LeviOsa or stuff like that, but I do believe that a person can make a decision to do something and do it. It’s all about the want to. (And they are growing meat in petri dishes now, so that’s kind of like magic.) I wanted to do an IRONMAN so I did it. Yes, a number Whammies popped up along the way: injuries, fear, drive, money, time, doubt, bodily function logistics, guilt, but I found a way through them all because I wanted to be an IRONMAN.

First off, I have a most excellent group of friends with whom I train and who keep me sane so I would recommend finding one of those before you head out on the pursuit of IRONMAN. Running 3+ hours alone is okay, especially if you have The Greatest Showman soundtrack on your phone, but running 3+ hours with your friends is infinitely better. Of course, since I’m too slow to keep up with my most excellent friends, I ended up doing the bulk of my run training alone, so you really don’t need to listen to me on this point. But I can say from actual experience that biking 6+ hours with friends is far better and infinitely safer than the going it alone.

With all of this biking and running, the IRONMAN In-Training learns a lot of things about human behavior. For example, lots of people drink Fireball and tiny bottles of Sutter Home wine. And lots of people throw their Fireball nips and tiny bottles of Sutter Home wine out of the windows of their cars. (This can be the only logical explanation, because in all of my hours of biking and running out on the streets of southeastern Massachusetts – we are talking hundreds of miles here – never once did I witness an actual person standing on the side of the road doing shots of Fireball or hosting tiny bottle of wine tastings.) People also smoke a lot of pot. Even at 5:30 in the morning, cars, trucks, SUVs, would whizz by me reeking of weed. Ergo, lots of people go to work stoned.

Another striking thing about humans, at least in the general vicinity of where I train, is that they hate people on bicycles. They HATE us and they readily, without the slightest provocation, commit all kinds of hate crimes against us. I have been given the finger, sworn at, honked at, yelled at, revved at, swerved at, called the B-word and the C-word – all of this and I’m a lady! None of these people give a crap whether I am an IRONMAN or an IRONWOMAN. To them I am just an IRONASSHOLE. Some of my fellow IRONMANs (IRONMANs? IRONMEN? What is the proper plural form of IRONMAN?) In-Training have been run off the road by these bike haters. And the bike haters are an equal opportunity, diverse group of folks. Men, women, children, teens, pot smokers, Fireball, and tiny wine drinkers; they come in all sexes, shapes, races, sizes, creeds, and colors, but they all stand together in their utter, unabashed loathing for the IRONMAN In-Training. So, train together everyone. If nothing else, you’ll have a witness at the attempted murder trial.

We chose the Mont-Tremblant, Quebec venue for our first IRONMAN attempt because of the favorable exchange rate we’d get when we bought all of our IRONMAN swag. Just kidding, we chose Mont-Tremblant because a training friend described it as luxurious. Yes, you heard that right, luxurious. This is a word my Partner-In-Tri, Tracy, loves saying, a lot. Tracy is 20 years my junior and a far more accomplished triathlete than me. She is also a far more reasoned, responsible and better overall human being than I am. Tracy is like Spock whereas I am like Kirk. She’s super cool, calm, deliberate, and always looks put together. I am excitable, somewhat brash, disorganized, and I sweat a lot.

Every time someone asks why we picked Mont-Tremblant, Tracy tells the luxurious story. Now, luxurious might not be the first word that springs to mind when describing a race where a considerable number of people pee on their bikes in order to save themselves eight seconds on their total race time, but apparently all IRONMAN events are fully catered. What does that mean, you ask? Well, it means there are a whole bunch of people out on the course who do stuff for you. They take off your wetsuit, they rack your bike out on the course and at the end of the bike leg, they put sunscreen on you, they have your Special Needs bag ready for you when you arrive at the Aid Stations, they hand you food and drinks, they cheer you on, they play music and tell you, “You look great!” “Great pace!” “You got this!” In short, they make you feel like Michael Jackson when you actually feel like Tito. The volunteers of IRONMAN are like the sherpas of Mount Everest – without them, no one is summiting.

We arrived at our beautifully appointed, but somewhat cave-like (there is some kind of low wattage light bulb issue in Canada or maybe everybody has come to the universal conclusion that we all look better in mood lighting) Mont-Tremblant condo three days before the race so that we could make all the necessary adjustments to our new environment. Top of my list: the poop schedule. The importance of the poop schedule for the IRONMAN In-Training cannot be overstated. You. Have. Got. To. Nail. This. Down. Before. Race. Day. Period. On a typical long bike training day, we would plan to ride at 5:30 a.m. For this IRONMAN In-Training that means waking at 4:30 so as to allow the necessary amount of time for coffee, food, Facebook, and, drumroll please, pooping. There is just nothing worse than heading out on a long training day having that unmoved bowel hanging over your head. You must do everything in your power to compel the waste to evacuate your body before you put your seat in the saddle. This is especially important on race day. Poop issues are legendary in IRONMAN. When I was on the run course, I had the unfortunate luck of opening up a portajohn where someone had most certainly pooped themselves to death. All hopes for that IRONMAN title all over the interior of that portajohn. Don’t be that person. Move the mail before you hit the road.

There’s not much to say about the time leading up to race day. When you’re this close to IRONMAN you become kind of like the John Travolta character in “The Boy in the Plastic Bubble.” You can’t go hike the beautiful Mont-Tremblant mountains because you need fresh legs for race day. You can’t drink alcohol because you need a fresh liver for race day. You can’t go too far from the condo because you’re hydrating so much that you need to pee every 30 minutes or so. And, like the Boy in the Plastic Bubble, you long to be free, to swim, bike, run with abandon, but one false move, one pinky toe against the bedpost and GAME OVER! It’s a tense, boring time, fraught with anxiety, doubt, and Will Ferrell movies.

We woke up at 3 a.m. on race day. Again, there is much to do before you step over that timing mat and you need to be on the beach, self-seeded into your swim time by 6:00(ish) a.m. The race was scheduled to start at 7:00 a.m., but there is much pomp and circumstance to get through before the starting cannon. In this case, we heard “O Canada” sung by a too twangy Canadian country singer and we had two flyovers by the Royal Canadian Air Force. I do not know if two flyovers is the standard. I think we might’ve had two because of all the fog. There was so much fog that the IRONMAN people actually thought of canceling the swim! One minute there was no Top Gun jet, the next minute, it was there, popping out of the fog like Godzilla out of the sea. It scared the **it out of us, luckily I had taken care of business hours ago back at the condo.

SwimOn to the swim. Since the fog delayed our start by an hour, IRONMAN officials were all worried about getting everyone into the water by 8 a.m. That gave mere minutes to herd 2,800, primarily Type-A, people into the lake. The staggered start became more like a herd of Walkers on assault to Hill Top, and quickly escalated into the “Don’t Panic” scene from Airplane. Because of the fog people were swimming in all different directions and all over each other. People were being punched, kicked, legs pulled, heads dunked, goggles stripped – only the wetsuits kept folks from being intimately violated! It was a moist melee!! A freestyle free-for-all! A swimming sanatorium! At least that’s what I’ve heard. I had a lovely swim. Calm, peaceful, and most likely twice as long, since I stayed way on the outside near the swim perimeter and far from the floating fracas. Unlike Tracy, who later reported an assortment of assaults, I only received one kick to the nose. Otherwise, the swim was pure joy. As it was the shortest leg of my soon to be 14 ½ hour day, I was sad to see it end.

The bike course was like Mordor. Hot, hilly, scary, lonely, and most certainly designed to claim your life. And this is coming from someone who likes riding hills. I am a hill eater. I am a hill slayer. I need my own polka dot bike jersey because I’m such a hill monster. Or so I thought. Southeastern Massachusetts doesn’t know hills. I didn’t know hills. Now, I know hills. At one point on the Hills of Mordor I was traveling at four miles per hour. Four. F-O-U-R. I was in sissy gear, standing, pushing and pulling with every muscle in my body, my very soul consumed with aspiration of ascent – going four miles per hour. I can take care of my bathroom business at better than four miles per hour. But, I never walked my bike! Not even on lap two! I drove my weary body up those hills like Frodo to the fires of Mount Doom. The downhills were another story entirely. On the downhills I was more like Nathan Lane in The Birdcage. I had heard people reached speeds of up to 60 miles per hour on some of these downhills. Not me. I am a mother. People depend on me.Bike

When it was time to get off of the bike, I rejoiced. 112 miles is really far and one’s body begins to object. I read somewhere that when competing in an IRONMAN one “gets comfortable being uncomfortable.” No truer words have been written. The Hills of Mordor in the rearview mirror I was looking forward to the run. As an IRONMAN In-Training various injuries sabotaged my run training, but I knew if I ran my heart rate and stopped as needed, I could go the distance. The trick to all of this endurance stuff is, quite simply, just keep going forward. It is also wise to learn how to pace oneself, but if that becomes too complicated, just remember start slow, finish strong. I came out of the bike transition running a nine minute mile. This is just plain silly. For me, this is Ludicrous Speed. There is no way I can sustain a nine minute mile for 26.2 miles, no way, no how. You have to keep your heart rate in the aerobic zone so your body has an endless supply of fuel to burn and you can keep moving forward. Run too fast, and you run out of fuel. Run out of fuel, stop moving forward. Sacrifice your pace in order to sustain your effort. Of course, running a 10:30/11 minute mile doesn’t exactly qualify as running and can be a little embarrassing. Coming out of transition, everyone blowing by me and me shuffling along like a Geisha who’s late for work, I felt a wee bit humiliated. But, it’s IRONMAN, so, get comfortable being uncomfortable. And, I had also read, that most of these people would be walking by the end and I would be passing them.

Eating, or fueling, as it’s called in these elite endurance circles, is vital to success out on the IRONMAN trail. The guy at the bike store told me that the sole purpose of the IRONMAN bike leg is for fueling. Eat, eat, eat, and drink, drink, drink. I don’t remember the fuel to effort calculation, but basically you need an ish ton of food and liquid to keep moving forward over the course of 14 ½ +/-hours. The typical IRONMAN In-Training learns to eat liquid food, like the spacefood John Glenn was ingesting back in the 1960s. The liquid food Tracy and I like to ingest is called Gu. Yes, Gu. Sounds like goo. Gu comes in all kinds of flavors, birthday cake, salted caramel, wild berry, and, best of all, french toast. There are also Gu waffles which are quite yummy and a welcome respite from all the mush. But after 12ish hours out biking and running, Gus tend to make you sick. It becomes almost impossible to choke back one more helping of french toast Gu and you end up feeling like Paul Newman with the eggs in Cool Hand Luke. At one point along the run, I took a bite of a chocolate waffle and just threw it in the trash. I could not ingest one more Gu product. I was the ridiculously fat dinner patron in Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life on the verge of explosion. Just the thought of Gus was enough to make me want to barf. On top of that you have to drink. A lot. And you can’t just drink water, because you could die of lack of salt problems, so it is recommended that you drink Gatorade or some other kind of sports drink with electrolytes. I drank Gatorade and ate Gus all day long. One Gu per every 30 minutes on the bike and on the run. My bike time was a little over seven hours and my run time five and a half . That’s 20+ Gus (I gave up eating them after a while) total. Plus the occasional half a banana, orange slice, potato chip and God only knows how many gallons of Gatorade. After a while your mouth just turns putrid and gets hairy. I would’ve given anything for a toothbrush out on the course.

RunEventually, as darkness set in hard (I truly could not see one foot in front of me on some parts of the run course), I stopped ingesting Gus, and the high school band stopped playing, the prophecy of starting slow to finish strong came true. Suddenly I was the only person running! And I felt amazing! Way back in my early IRONMAN In-Training days, I had watched a video about the importance of Mile 18. Apparently, Mile 18 is the bonking spot or the spot where the body rebels and stops moving forward. The guy in the video was quite adamant that the swim feeds the bike and the bike feeds the run and it all feeds Mile 18. So, of course, all day I’m living in fear of Mile 18. Even at mile 17.98 – feeling great, holding my pace, walking the aid stations as advised, no cramps – I kept worrying about Mile 18. Would my body just shut down? Would I suddenly cramp up and crumple? Would I just spontaneously combust? Well, the only thing that died at Mile 18 was my watch and after that, since I was in the clear, I picked up the pace and finished strong. I don’t know what my pace was at the end, but I know it was better than 10:30 or 11. I’d say somewhere between 9:30 and 10. I even had enough gusto to sprint through finisher chute in the village and high five all kinds of people. I still can’t believe how good I felt at the finish. I think I might’ve had a touch of IRONMANIA, but after moving forward for 14 ½ hours, what the hell.

One piece of advice I did not follow and I sure should have, was to take a motion sickness pill after the race. Finishing IRONMAN is kind of like getting off of a boat after a long day out on the water. Your body still thinks it’s moving, so you can get woozy. I felt great until about two hours post-race at the restaurant staring down a beer, burger and fries. Two sips of that beer, one nibble of that burger and that was it for me. I never barfed, but my worst imaginings of Mile 18 had arrived. So, remember your motion sickness pills if you are looking to become an IRONMAN. It is not a common occurrence, but it is not fun should it hit.

So now I’m a F’ING IRONMAN. But I am here only with the help, support, love, and friendship of so many. The list is impossible to make since this road began way back, years ago, on the Rabbit Road in Munchkinland. Little did my husband know, when he bought me that Trek road bike, that he was creating an IRONMONSTER. I would, however, like to thank a few people specific to the IRONMAN day, people along the course whose presence mattered. Gilda, your company on the bike course was wonderful! Thank you. Ron, thank you for all the kind words about my hill climbing. To the lady out on the bike course who told me my number was upside down, my age number that is! “You must be 35 not 53.” The woman out in the swim who poked her head up, laughing, and said, “This is fun, right?” To the guy in the white onesie walking and farting on the run course. Thanks for the laugh and the extra motivation to pass you. Thank you to the aid station crew on my final leg through the village near the end who was playing my jam, Try Everything. I never thought I’d be dancing on the IRONMAN course. The people yelling my number, 927, after I came out of the portajohn at one of the bike course aid stations and the guy who explained that I had a toilet paper tail flapping in the breeze behind me. It was roughly three feet long! Quite spectacular. The spectators and volunteers: you are the heart and soul of the day. Thank you. My parents, both gone now, who never stopped playing and gave me the best example of how growing older does not mean growing old. My husband who sherpaed the hell out of that IRONMAN and who would’ve definitely held my hair back had I actually puked in the restaurant. And my dear Spock, Tracy, without whom I never would’ve have embarked on this IRONROAD in the first place. On to the tattoo parlor!

I would say that if you’re even toying with the idea of IRONMAN you should go for it. Much to teach, IRONMAN has. IRONMAN teaches patience, restraint, resolve, mindfulness, humility, discipline, and pride. You test yourself, pass, and grow. You test yourself, fail, and grow more. And it’s one hell of a lot of fun.IMG_4790

So, if IRONMAN is in your future, find a great group of training friends, the kind that don’t take themselves too seriously – none of you is going to win, after all – get a tri-bike, you just can’t keep up on a road bike and you’ll exhaust yourself trying, find some kind of liquid food you can tolerate, and remember those motion sickness pills. But, above all else, bring your want to because if you have that, anything is, indeed, possible.

 

 

 

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1 Response to “Ironman”


  1. 1 Mia Corriea
    September 3, 2018 at 2:46 am

    Wow Marcia! I’m Proud of you! Miss you too! Mia

    Like


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