Friday, July 1, 2011

Ironman CDA Race Report: Amy's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass

This race report of Ironman Coeur d’Alene is another tome. But, as Lewis Carroll once said, to tell a story you must "Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end; then stop.” And so I shall.

But first, a little detour for those who love numbers, I will report how I did versus my goals. And provide an executive summary for those of us who want the highlights now.  (I am sure they plan to curl up with my good book later.)

Swim: Goal: 1:40:00 Actual: 1:33:29

T1 Goal: 10:00 Actual: 14:56

Bike: Goal: 7:30 Actual: 8:18:44

T2 Goal: 10:00 Actual: 5:51

Run Goal: 5:00 Actual: 6:26:21

Total Goal: 14:30 Actual: 16:39:19

In summary, the swim was a blast, the bike ride was much hillier than I expected, but gorgeous, and why didn’t anyone tell me that a marathon was so much harder at the end of a day after nearly 10 hours of exercise than it is when you start out fresh as a daisy early in the morning?

But I finished! Once upon a time I thought finishing an Ironman was impossible for the likes of me. I didn’t believe. After all, when I ran my first mile, during the Presidential Physical Fitness Test, in school, I swet buckets and nearly died. I cursed Big Bertha, the gym teacher who made me do it. I hung up my running shoes till I was 43, when I took up jogging for my health. That was only five years ago. And here I was trying to complete an Ironman.

"Alice laughed. 'There's no use trying,' she said. 'One can't believe impossible things.'

‘I daresay you haven't had much practice,' said the Queen. 'When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.’”

So, I have spent the last year believing impossible things every day, and lo and behold, they have come true! I am an IRONMAN!

Pre-Race Calm

Race morning was eerie. I am accustomed to needing deep breathing to calm my frayed nerves on race mornings, but on the morning of the most difficult race I’d ever attempted, I awoke at 3:45 am, and I was completely calm. I got dressed and greeted the rest of my household, all up and preparing for a long day. I drank a strong cup of coffee and ate my eggs, toast and jelly, and a Greek yogurt. Holly, Amanda and Susan Ann were staying out in Hayden Lake, a thirty minute drive away and along the bike course. The arrived at our house, three blocks from the start, just before 5:00 am, and we all made our way to the start. As we walked, I ate a banana.

The day before, we had taken our bikes to transition and had dropped off bags for the swim/bike transition (“T1”) and for the bike/run transition (“T2”). The weather was not hot, so I had loaded my nutrition, including my fluids, on my bike. So, race morning, all we needed to do was to take our “special needs bags,” which we could access halfway through the bike and run, to a truck for delivery out in the field, to pump up our bike tires and to put on our wetsuits and prepare our minds for the swim.

As we put on our wetsuits, I realized that somewhere along the way, I had lost the two gels I planned to eat that morning: I was going to eat one before the swim, and one halfway through the swim, when we were required to step up onshore and walk across a timing chip. I contemplated the hunger that would plague me if I went for over two hours without eating. Luckily, my team saved me: Becca offered me the second half of a power bar to eat before the swim, and Holly found an extra gel, which I tucked in my wetsuit sleeve for the mid-swim snack. I ate the power bar, took a salt tablet, and as a precaution took two puffs of albuterol.

I remained calm, and we made our way to the beach. One of our coaches, Coach Kyle, was racing with the pros. I would have liked to see him start, but it was so crowded, we did not make it to the beach till after the pro start. Once we arrived on the beach, a woman took my prescription glasses and put them in a labeled zip lock bag. They were to be sitting on a table at the swim exit, where a volunteer would hand them to me. Such service! Typically I shove my prescription sunglasses somewhere on the shore and wander back at the end of the day hoping they are still there.

The Swim

I have experienced swim starts in local races, and I have read reports of Ironman mass swim starts, but nothing is like the actual experience of standing on a narrow beach with more than 2400 athletes, listening to U2’s “It’s a Beautiful Day,” hearing the gun go off, and then moving forward, en masse, to swim.

After talking to many people in the days and weeks before the race, I decided not to "hang back" on the beach and wait for everyone else to start to avoid getting kicked. Some people told me that so many people use this strategy that it's crowded in the back too. Who wants to lose several minutes only to be kicked anyway? Also, I decided not to park myself way to the outside, away from the crowd because I would have to swim into the crowd at the buoy to continue anyway. It would be more swimming for only minimal extra comfort. So I decided to situate myself in the middle (front to back) and directly in line with the buoy.  In the "line of fire," as it were.  I stood with Holly, Amanda, Becca, Dorothy and Susan Ann as we waited for the gun to go off one of my buddies said,"Aren't we too far forward?"

I replied quickly, "NO!"

They looked a little worried, though, so I asked a woman standing near us, "How fast do you expect to finish?" We were all targeting around 1:40 or so.

She said "I hope 1:10."

I said to my buddies, "see--perfect!" : )

I did agree to tuck directly behind the 1:10 woman, which turned out to be an error because when the gun went off she paused and held hands with her husband, forming a human chain in front of me. I worried that I would trip and break their marital bond. I didn’t want the responsibility. But soon I realized that it did not matter. Soon, we all would be bonded.

I ran until I could run no more, and without much effort I was horizontal. I would not describe my activity as swimming because there was little room to move my arms around, and certainly no room to kick. I received some Bruce Lee kicks and Muhammad Ali jabs, but I was prepared, like Harry Houdini taking a jab to his stomach during his magic act. I was sure others were panicked, but I remained calm, as I became one with the collective. “Resistance is futile,” I reasoned. I concentrated on finding just enough room for my body to float on the water. The Borg sucked me along faster than I could have swum on my own. In no time, I breathed to my left and saw the first buoy. I had never swum so fast. I tried to sight to determine the location of the next buoy. I could not see it, and suddenly I decided it did not matter. If the Borg was going the wrong way, I would go the wrong way with it. “Resistance is futile.”

Eventually, the Borg thinned out, and I became Seven of Nine: Still part of the collective, but with a bit of autonomy that enabled me to swim. I concentrated on catching and pulling as strongly as I could.  (Thank you, Whitney). I am not good at “drafting” off other swimmers--which means swimming close enough to benefit from their wake--but in this environment one couldn’t “avoid the draft” any more than a male high school graduate without college prospects could avoid the draft during the height of the Vietnam War. And recall that I started with faster swimmers, so I drafted off one after the other at a faster pace than I could have maintained myself. Then I arrived at the turn buoy, and realized I could not get by.

Sorry, you’re much too big. Simply impassible!

Alice: Why, don't you mean impossible?

Door: No, I do mean impassible. (chuckles) Nothing's impossible!

I was directly behind a large man, who decided it was prudent to lift his head up, turtle style, and have a gander. This caused him to slow, and caused me to swim on top of his gangly legs. Uh oh! I could not avoid the inevitable strong kick to get the turtle flat and moving. Ugggg. Finally, though, I was around the seemingly impassible buoy.

I made my way to the beach where we would exit for a moment at the halfway mark. I knew the fastest way to get to shore would be to swim until my hands hit the sand and I could swim no more, but people ahead of me stood and waded too far out from shore. I contemplated swimming through their legs, but decided that was not “on” and stood up with them. I had contemplated running on shore, but a cluster of zombies walked like the living dead ahead of me, blocking the way. So, I ambled along, over the timing mat, as I pulled my gel out of my sleeve, ate the thick, sugary calories, shoved the empty gel packet back in my wetsuit arm, and walked quietly back in the water.

A man announced that we were 45 minutes into the swim. For a brief moment, I thought I was swimming slower than my goal of 1:40, but then I realized that I was on pace for a 1:30 swim! I knew the second loop would be slower, though, because the collective was breaking apart. I began swimming purposefully, with my elbow high, and drafted off people when I could. I finished the swim in 1:33:29, much faster than the 1:40 I had set as my goal. I felt elated: I was not tired from the swim.

All of my focus on swimming for the past year had paid off.  I owe a lot to my excellent swim coaches, Whitney and Tyler, who helped me eliminate my weaknesses and focus on my strengths.  I was ahead of schedule!


But then I realized I was a popsicle. I made my way to the ladies’ changing tent, also known as the “nudie tent.” Looking around for a moment, I knew how it got this reputation. Like many others around me, in this tent, I planned to remove my bathing suit, dry off with a towel, and then put on bike shorts, a sports bra, a bike jersey, socks, bike shoes and my helmet. It was no time to be modest. I tried to untie my bag, and struggled. It seemed impossible! But, you see, so many out-of-the-way things had happened lately (in my quest for the Ironman), that, like Alice, I had begun to think that very few things were really impossible.

Hanging in T1 with frozen fingers is not impossible because every lady aspiring to become an Ironman has a ladies’ maid. My ladies’ maid was named Michelle, and she began to help me as though I were Queen Elizabeth I, the Red Queen. “Would you like to wear this?” “No, not that one, but I do want to wear my arm warmers.” “Shall I turn on your Garmin for you now?” “Yes, thank you!” She was calm and efficient and found a way to clothe me. 

Eventually, Michelle took all the leftover stuff, including my wetsuit, and started shoving it back in my bag, as I headed out of the tent to my bike rack, where I placed my Garmin on Aanjay, grabbed her seat and jogged out onto the street and across the mount line.


My heart rate was high as I started out on the bike ride. Fortunately, the first 25 miles of the bike ride are not too hilly, so I worked on getting my heart rate down to a manageable level. There was one exceptional hill during this section of the ride--a steady climb of half a mile during the first six miles of the course--a little out and back before starting the main route. I huffed and puffed up the hill, and at the top I was rewarded with a gorgeous view of the lake. The air was crisp and clear, and I breathed deeply. I thought of my friend Beth’s father, who had died of lung cancer just a little over a year ago. He huffed and puffed, but now he breathes the crisp air deeply.

As I swung back to town on the way to the main route and spotted my teammate Susan Ann. She was heading out to the hill, and thus quite a ways behind me. She must have had a tough swim, I reasoned, but I was comforted in the knowledge that she is a strong cyclist, so I was sure she’d catch up. I reasoned that other teammates would catch up to me, too. Dorothy, a very strong cyclist, but a slow swimmer, would catch up at some point. And Trish, another strong cyclist, has something called Reynaud’s, a hyper-sensitivity to cold. She would struggle to warm up after swimming in 58 degree water, but I was sure she’d catch up.

I continued on, and I was fast. My goal of 7:30 would require me to average 14.93 miles per hour. By mile 25, my average was 16 miles per hour, and I felt great. Maybe my bike ride would be faster than predicted, as my swim had been? 

Then came the hills. The first, just past a beautiful golf course, was an ugly climb. As I climbed, I thought of my friend and fellow triathlete, Ed Stone, who survived leukemia 20 years ago, and is currently battling cancer. I got up the hill for Ed. After that climb came the descent that some of us practiced a couple days earlier. My teammate Greg, who is fast and skilled at going down scary hills, took a turn on the descent too quickly and fell. Fortunately, he landed on a bush that apparently was made of pillows. I couldn't spot the pillow bush, so I descended the portion of the hill where he fell carefully and thereafter more confidently. What followed was a killer climb. Thereafter, I saw hill after rolling hill. Typically, I would fly down a hill and I'd see a climb before me. I'd be convinced that my momentum from the downhill would carry me almost to the top of the next hill. But then, I'd either find a “kicker” at the top of the next hill, or a “false flat” hill that went on and on and one. Either way, my heart rate would spike.

Each time I felt my heart rate spike, I took inspiration from someone. I had asked for friends to give me the names of loved ones to whom I could dedicate miles of the race: people who had died of cancer or who were battling cancer. Among those for whom I dedicated miles on the bike were Richard Stewart, who underwent cancer surgery just one week before the race. I prayed for good post-op news for him and his daughter, who describes him as "the most adorable, precious, perfect dad I could have asked for." I thought of those who had lost their lives to cancer, including David Rejean Favreau, who died of lymphoma, the same disease that my father has, nineteen years ago, when his daughter Missy was a girl. Although he wasn't there to tell her, I know he would have been proud of her on Sunday, as she completed the Ironman with me, just as my father is proud of my accomplishments. Well, to be fair, Missy finished long before I did. I think her father gave her some fast genes. My Dad admits he was a back-of-the-packer like I am, but he did teach me determination. And, as it turns out, determination can get you anywhere you want to go.

It just might take you a while to get there. As soon as I hit the hills, I knew my original 7:30 goal wasn't achievable, and I doubted my revised 7:50 goal that I set while driving the course. My average speed dropped and dropped, but I paid more attention to my heart rate. I didn’t want to spike my heart rate higher than it should be. After all, I was going to be out there all day. By the time I got through the hills, I figured my bike time would be 8 hours, possibly more. Sigh. I looked out on the blue water of Hayden Lake and remembered a story my Mom told me about our family’s long-time employee, Mary, who loves to fish in Alabama’s Lake Purdy. Her fishing buddy Jessie is sick with breast cancer, so Mary’s been fishing alone. I thought of Mary fishing out in the lake and was a little blue.

But soon I got a pick-me-up as a bike whizzed by and its rider shouted an encouraging: “AMY!” It was Coach Kyle, one of my coaches and a professional triathlete. He had lapped me and was finishing his second loop. At the end of the day, he would place eighth overall among the male professional trithletes competing. As for lapping me, what can I say: he had a 35 minute head start on me. ; )

I did pick up some speed during the fast part of the course the second time around, but the second loop's hills were killers because by then I was pretty tired despite trying to stay in my proper heart rate zone throughout. Lots of people had cooked themselves during the first loop: I saw many apparently strong people pushing bikes up hills. I was tempted, but I thought of Sharon Neville, who died of leukemia five years ago; Sharon’s husband and their daughter Kelly are now riding their bikes across the country with Kelly’s brother driving a support truck. With that kind of inspiration, I could not get off and push.

But the clock was ticking, and it was taking me a long time to get anywhere. I started worrying about the bike cutoffs. Not only did I need to finish the entire race in 17 hours, but I also had to complete various portions of the bike course by set times. The bike cutoff times actually were much stricter than the overall time limit of 17 hours. Although I had been confident I would not need to worry about the bike cutoffs, a couple of my teammates had been worried and had discussed them, so I knew what they were. But I was so tired I had trouble doing the math to figure out if I truly was in danger of getting cut off.

By this time, I also was tired of the lemon lime sports drink they supplied on the course, but I had no alternative but to drink it. I did put water in the smaller of my two reservoirs on my aero bottle. I needed the calories from the sports drink, but my mouth was so sick of lemon lime that the plain water tasted good. I was careful during the bike ride to eat enough, too, whenever I felt the least bit hungry. I ate mostly cliff bars for the first quarter of the ride, and then I alternated between cliff bars and gels. It wasn’t very hot, so I only took three salt tabs during the bike course.

With about 20 miles to go, Holly caught me, and then Trish passed us both. Holly’s cycling has gotten so much stronger in the last couple months since the Kinetic Half, which took her half an hour longer than it took me. Today, her swim was about 30 minutes slower than mine, although we normally swim at the same pace.  She got vertigo on the swim, apparently.   Notwithstanding that, she had made up the extra 30 minutes it took her on the swim by cycling fast to catch me. She had crushed the bike! She explained that the slow swim got her worried she’d miss the bike cutoffs, so she’d been pedaling harder than she’d planned to make up for the time loss. She told me she’d heard that Susan Ann had trouble with her bike and missed the bike cutoff. Neither of us had seen Dorothy, which we took as a very bad sign because if she’d finished the swim at all, she surely would have passed us on the bike. Together, we did the math to figure out how fast we had to go to make the final cutoff. We struggled. We weren’t on drugs, but our brains were fried eggs.

"Pooh," said Rabbit kindly, "you haven't any brain."

"I know," said Pooh humbly.

In the end, it was about belief. Did we believe we would make it?

“Well, now that we have seen each other," said the unicorn, "if you'll believe in me, I'll believe in you. Is that a bargain?"

We believed. And we made the final cutoff with about 20 minutes to go.

Grooms and the Nudie Tent (T2)

I crossed the “dismount” line and began to get off my bike. What greeted me were grooms. No, I was not getting married, but I once again was Queen Elizabeth I and my horse grooms were hell-bent on taking my horse from me. Two strong men held my bike by either side forcefully. I tried to pry the bike back from them, but they would have none of it. “What can we do for you?” they asked. “Would you like something from the bike, some water, perhaps? “You can lean my bike over a bit so I have leverage to remove my shoe from the pedal,” I replied, my leg bent helplessly over the top tube of the bike. They looked a little embarrassed and complied, and I finished getting off the horse and ran to the nudie tent.

I thought of my friend Robin, who lost her leg to cancer last year. She is an inspiration: she has learned to walk on one leg, to swim with one leg, and has cycled on a stationary bike. She plans to ride on a new tri bike she has outdoors, with the goal of racing a triathlon later this year. The hardest part of cycling with one leg, apparently, is getting on and off your bike. I need to tell her--she needs to get some grooms!

As soon as I entered the tent with my bag, I shed my bike clothes and a volunteer helped me into my little black dress. Holly had a matching little black dress. We had ironed Endorphin Fitness logos on our little black dresses. Of course, we had no idea whether we’d be anywhere near one another as we ran the marathon. Now it appeared we would run it together. As I prepared to leave the tent, Holly, who was still changing, shouted, “I’ll catch up to you!”

The Run

As I left transition, I saw my teammate Jack Martin amongst the spectators. Was he that far ahead that he’d already finished the run? That didn’t seem right, and then I noticed his arm was in a sling. OH, Jack!! I shouted. He replied “Finish strong for me!” As it turns out, he fell and separated his shoulder on the bike.

My plan for the run from the beginning was to run at an 11:30 pace for the first half marathon, and then consider speeding up if I felt great. The first few miles were fast, and included a stretch along a wild block party. My friend Bronwen had asked me to run a mile in memory of a friend’s young son, John, who died of cancer at age 3 ½. He loved for his mother to run with him in the stroller, and I imagined pushing him past the block party. Everyone was dancing and cheering. I almost joined a limbo line but decided maybe I should save my strength.

It was then that I felt fatigued. Where the heck was Holly? I began to doubt whether I could keep up the pace necessary to complete the marathon in 5 hours. I had to stop at the porta potty, but Holly was nowhere to be found. I ducked in. About a quarter mile further, I saw Holly’s family, wearing Cat in the Hat and EF gear. Emma said, “Amy, don’t run too fast: I want to get your picture!” I paused for the photo and asked “where is your Mommy?” Of course, she had passed me. Now I had to speed up to catch her.

Huffing, Puffing, I caught her. I asked what she thought about the five hour marathon goal. She said “I still think I can do it.” By then I was hurting, but I vowed to keep up with her as long as possible. Because the run course was a two loop course with a long out and back, we saw some of our fast teammates passing by: Marco and Jay Crabtree, with such focus. Will Turner, who was doing his second Ironman and had run Boston this year, passed us looking strong. David Murray was running with his son, which warmed my heart. Imagine finishing an Ironman with your child at your side! Later we saw Jay Markiewicz, a seasoned ultra runner, walking the marathon. It was odd to see him walking. We saw friends finishing their second Ironman--Bethany, Missy--all smiles.

Then Holly said she was going to throw up. I suggested walking some. My stomach was fine, but I was exhausted. Holly didn't throw up, but the feeling hung over her for the rest of the run. We ran and walked, the walking getting longer and longer each time we did it. I began to eat everything placed before me. At the aid stations, every mile, they offered not only gels and power bars, but also chocolate chip cookies, oreos, pretzels, potato chips, oranges and bananas. I had something different at every stop. Holly looked at everything at every stop, ate very little, and felt ill. One stop was manned by volunteers dressed as pirates, including two teenage girls who shouted “ARRRRG!” as we arrived. It takes very little to make you belly laugh when you are this tired.

I told Holly about those who had asked me to remember them on the bike and run, and we dedicated miles to their memory and support. It helped get us through to think about those who struggled so hard. There was my Aunt Ellen, who died of cancer, and Holly’s own daughter Emma, the little girl who made me stop for a photo. Emma was diagnosed with leukemia at 10 weeks of age. She received the miracle of life and is now a happy pre-teen. There was my lovely cousin Susan. Susan lost her life to cancer as a young woman, leaving behind a wonderful husband, a Christian minister, and their three girls. My friend Julia and I had dedicated the hardest mile during our first marathon to Susan, praying fervently for Susan to receive an experimental treatment for which she had applied--a last chance. The prayers were answered, and she received the treatment, but alas she succumbed to the disease in the end. Now Holly and I ran in Susan’s memory.

We finished the first loop in town, passing cheering crowds. We took a walk break up a small hill and spied our teammate Dorothy on the sidelines. She confirmed that she had missed the swim cutoff and that Amanda (who was one of the Three Musketeers) had missed a bike cutoff. So had Susan Ann, who apparently had some sort of brake malfunction.

Dorothy also had good news to report. Coach Kyle had finished strong--eighth among the pro male triathletes. The pro leader, Craig Alexander, had set a course record that day.

Among the fastest age groupers were Coach Renee and teammate Greg (who managed to avoid falling this time), who both had PRs, and Coach Michael, who had a great first Ironman race. Coach Michael finished fast, Dorothy said, but he collapsed at the finish line and had to be taken to the medical tent. Later I learned he figured out he was ahead of many people on the bike, and so he kept up a fast pace to maintain his position. Eventually four cyclists, all illegally drafting off one another, passed him. By then he was tired, and he’d end up paying for his extra efforts on the run, and others had passed him. He had remembered the proverb “The early bird gets the worm,” but forgot its companion, “the second mouse gets the cheese.”

Holly and I ran, and we walked. We walked some in memory of my Grandmother, who used to walk slowly a few steps behind you, regardless how fast or slow you might travel. We tried to walk fast, to power walk.

“Do you think we could finish if we walked the rest of the way?” I ventured to Holly. “Not that I’m advocating that we give up running, mind you. We are, as Miracle Max would say, Mostly Walking. But there’s a big difference between Mostly Walking and All Walking.”

If Mostly Walking became All Walking, would we finish the Ironman before midnight? It depended on the pace. "Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!" So, we adjusted our Mostly Walking to All Walking, but All Power Walking. We used our tired brains to figure out the math, and in the end we reckoned that we would finish this thing no matter what.

Then we arrived at the foot of the giant hill. We knew it was coming, but boy was it daunting. We dedicated climbing the hill to VG Starling, a career military officer who served in WWII, Korea and Vietnam, earned 2 purple hearts and died from cancer tied to exposure to Agent Orange in 1981. He drove his son, our teammate DeWayne Starling, to his first half marathon when DeWayne was 13, and encouraged him to run, though running was not as popular then as it is now. VG’s grandson, Robbie, is a teammate and one of the young crowd I call “firecrackers,” because when they take off running, it’s fireworks. Before we knew it, VG Starling had shepherded Holly and me over the huge hill. Thank you! We met  our teammate Becca at the foot of the hill, as she was going up.  She looked worn and ragged, and she asked us to tell her fiancĂ© if we saw him that she didn’t think she could make it.  We tried to encourage her as we went on our way.

By this time it was pitch dark. I had hoped to finish by 9:30 or 10, but it was after 11. I was wearing prescription sunglasses with dark brown lenses. I had planned to grab some yellow lenses to change into from the dark brown ones, but somehow in doing a quick transition at T2, the yellow lenses were left behind. The race officials had placed temporary lights on the street about every ½ mile, but that left the vast majority of the course dark. We were on a paved trail that paralleled a road. From time to time, a car passed and the headlights revealed the path to us. Thankfully Holly was with me because I often had to hold her hand while she informed me of useful facts such as “Amy, there’s a huge cone in front of you.”

“What’s truly amazing, Holly, is not only that I am going to finish this Ironman, but that I am going to be the first person ever to finish an Ironman while completely blind.” They will wonder “how did she do the bike ride?” And I will say, “Holly shouted whenever there was a cone.”  And they will marvel.

Just then, an SUV squealed to a stop beside us and the door swung open, as though we were criminals caught in an episode of Cops. Becca’s fiancĂ©, Joe, was driving, and what hopped out of the car was Coach Michael, who asked how we were doing.

"I am blind and Holly wants to throw up," I declared. "Other than that, we’re doing fabulously!”

“Good,” he said, “can you speed it up?”

“What on earth for?” I retorted. “We will finish at this pace.”

“You were going at a 20 minute pace for this last segment, though, which kinda scared me.”

Uh oh. “Okay, we’ll pick up the pace. Y’all go look for Becca.  She doesn't think she's going to finish.”

"We'll go make sure she does!"

Joe and Michael sped off, and Holly and I power walked a little faster than we had before. A few minutes later, Joe and Michael returned, asking how far back we thought Becca was. She had disappeared. Did she fall off the cliff, I wondered? But it was I who was wearing dark sunglasses. Coach Michael got out of the SUV and walked with us, leaving Joe to continue the search for Becca. As it turned out, after Becca got over the giant hill to the turn around, race officials saw her walking wounded look and calculated her pace and the distance to the finish. They concluded that she would not make it, and disqualified her. Then they suggested that she walk back.

“If you’re DQing me, I am surely not walking another step! You are driving me back to the finish.”

And so they drove her back to the medical tent, where she was treated for blisters all over her feet.

Meanwhile, Michael joined Holly in pointing out obstacles along the path to the finish. “Amy, watch the manhole cover!” And then he suggested that we might consider some running.

I grunted, but Holly said, “maybe a little shuffle.” And we shuffled. She shouted, “I said shuffle, Amy, not speed work! You must be running a seven-minute mile!”

Having never run a seven-minute mile in my life, I disagreed with her assessment, estimating the pace at something like a thirteen and a half-minute per mile pace. But I agreed to desist, and resumed walking.

After a bit more walking, Holly would shout, “Shuffle!” and then “Not so fast!  That's a blistering pace.”

Those we passed at this blistering pace giggled at Holly's assessment of speed.  And they encouraged us.  At this point, everyone we saw was walking.  The runners were all finished.

Finally a light shone on us, and I realized that not only were Holly and I suffering through the shuffle, but so was Coach Michael, who would normally run a seven-minute mile without breaking a sweat. But today, he had completed an Ironman, collapsed at the finish, and, after that he ate two large slices of pizza and a gigantic dish of ice cream. So the thirteen-minute per mile shuffles, though they lasted but a few minutes at a time, were hard on him.

“That ice cream wasn’t such a good idea before this effort,” he moaned. Suddenly I realized I was running with two people who wanted to throw up. My stomach was still fine, though I was hungry! I continued to eat potato chips and cookies at the aid stations, set out every mile. Weeks before the race, I had asked teammates who finished before me to bring me a hamburger.  Alas, they thought I was kidding and no burgers were proffered.  If someone had given me a hamburger, I would have asked for more ketchup and chowed down.

As we got closer, our friend Kelly joined us on the run. Kelly had been training for this race, but had a spill on her bike in April, so she did not get to race after all. But on this day, she looked great, and she was so encouraging. She noticed my sunglasses, and said she was going to be cool too. She put on her non-prescription sunglasses, and decided that cool was dangerous! Coach Michael and Kelly ran with us all the way until we turned left on the approach to the finish line.

“How far is it?” I asked.

They said we had about a quarter of a mile, downhill, to the finish. Holly asked how we should finish--one at a time or what.

“Let’s finish together!” I said. So we began to run, and I could see a little from the city street lights.  I dedicated the race to my Dad, and thought of him as I ran.  I thought of the rest of my family, too: my wickedly funny husband, my loving mother, and my wonderful siblings and their families.  I am the luckiest person in the world!

Can you see the finish line?” Holly asked.

“No! I can’t see it.”

But suddenly, it was revealed. The crowd was roaring. I actually thought I might cry, it was so emotional. There I was, running to the finish line of an Ironman, with literally thousands of people cheering me on. I was wearing sunglasses, as though I was a movie star. Very close to the finish, were all of my teammates, wearing red and shouting for us. And then we crossed the timing mat. Ding, Ding.

I did it. Holly did it. Each of us was an IRONMAN! It was an indescribable feeling.  I paused a minute to think about all the people who helped me get where I was.  I had incredible coaches, who taught me to push myself, who taught me to believe in myself.  My teammates were so supportive and helpful in getting me there.  And my family--well, they think I am crazy, but they love me anyway.  Thank God for that!

And I was so hungry! Volunteers hung a medal around my neck and gave me a shirt and hat. I said, “I am starving!” and they directed me to the food tent. At the food tent, I ate two large pieces of pizza, which were so hot they burnt the top of my mouth. I didn’t care. I was an IRONMAN!

After getting my fill of pizza, I got a little dizzy and asked to be taken to the medical tent. Strangely, I was told the medical tent was closed, but that I could lie down for a minute.

All I can say is, thank goodness it wasn't the food tent that closed early!

What’s Through the Looking Glass?

Well, I have great memories of training for this race, and actually accomplishing the Ironman. What next, you ask? What will the future memories bring?

"It's a poor sort of memory that only works backwards," said the White Queen to Alice.

I agree with the White Queen, though I do not want to make any decisions right now. I do know that whatever I do, it will be exciting. And it will involve eating.

Pooh and Piglet walked home thoughtfully together in the golden evening, and for a long time they were silent.

"When you wake up in the morning, Pooh," said Piglet at last, "what's the first thing you say to yourself?"

"What's for breakfast?" said Pooh. "What do you say, Piglet?"

"I say, I wonder what's going to happen exciting today?" said Piglet.

Pooh nodded thoughtfully.

"It's the same thing," he said.