The Run (26.2 miles)
I jogged into the changing tent with my run bag and found an empty spot on the wall. The tent by now had a distinct odor of… effort. I quickly removed my helmet, gloves, bike shoes and socks.
I put my Garmin watch on first and turned it on, hoping it would find some satellites by the time I finished putting everything else on (socks, shoes, run hat, gels, salt tab tube, sunblock spray). I also had some running shorts in the bag, in case my tri shorts were bugging me, but they weren’t. While changing, a guy near me asked a volunteer to help him into a fresh jersey (lycra/spandex, like the one I wear). They’re nearly impossible to get on once you’ve got a good sweat going. We exchanged a few words about how we wished we were the sort that could throw on a cotton tshirt and go for a run, but agreed that would just end in chafed, scabby nipples. Gross.
I handed off my run bag (now full of my bike gear) to a volunteer, but noted the “1401” sticker was coming off. He whipped out a sharpie and presto, good to go. I again took advantage of the tent’s urinal, then exited, heading for the big “run out” inflatable. I started my watch as I passed the chip reader, and I was off!
The run course starts by wrapping around the outside of the transition area, along a walkway that is filled with spectators. Sure enough, there was my own personal cheering squad, and I dished out a few high fives as I passed, calling out “great day to go for a run!”
Once I was out onto the street I checked my watch and, as expected, I was going a bit faster than I thought I was, and forced myself to slow down. My legs felt very tired, but stable and uninjured.
The furthest I’d gone on the bike in training was 100 miles. So I’d just set a new distance record for myself, after also having set a new distance record in the swim. Now it was time to run a marathon, which I’ve only done twice before. I was a little giddy at the ridiculousness of it all.
By now I had been exercising virtually non-stop for about 9.5 hours, which was also a new record. I knew my goal of beating 14:01 was impossible, and even beating 15 hours seemed unlikely based on how my legs felt. I decided my new goal was simply to run the whole marathon, only walking at the aid stations, which were about every mile.
Initially I stuck to my plan of a salt tab every :15 and :45 and a gel every :30 and :00, fudging the timing of the salt to match whenever I happened to be going through an aid station. I think I made it about 10 miles before I got sick of the gels. I remember making it to the Special Needs bags and not even bothering to take the spare gels I had there, because I’d started sampling some of the aid station fare. That’s a huge no-no, because one’s gut can have bad reactions to foods you haven’t practiced with. I figured I was going so slowly that it wasn’t going to make a difference anyway, and psychologically I just had to have some variety.
The aid stations, I have to say, were amazing. I was stunned by the energy output of the volunteers, cheering each and every athlete on as they went through. I had read that this race was known for its community support, and boy howdy, they weren’t kidding! In between the aid stations there were also pockets of spectators, some of whom had set up big speakers and were pumping out music to keep us going. It absolutely helped.
At about mile 5 there’s a monster of a hill. I’d seen it in the elevation profile but didn’t think it would be all that bad. Oh man was I ever wrong. That thing was a soul crusher, and I passed back quite a few that had gone by me because they started walking at that hill. I wasn’t running very fast, mind you, but I was still running.
The sun was fully shining now, and I was getting pretty hot. I started dumping ice down my top, which would collect at my waist and keep me cool, but also slowly fell out as I went along, which could be a hazard for someone else. At the next aid station I dumped the ice into the back pockets of my jersey, which had the added bonus of cooling off my gels, making them a bit more palatable (though that didn’t last long). I also dumped a couple cups of water over my head at each station.
I made it to the first turnaround, which was rather evilly located at the base of a slight descent. One quarter done, and an average pace of 11:27 per mile. That was pretty dang slow for me, but hey, I’d had a long day.
I kept moving, occasionally trading quick comments and words of encouragement with other athletes as one of us passed the other. Around mile 9 some guy came running out of a bar across the street with a couple shot glasses, handed one to another runner, and then they both shot whatever the spirit was down. I was stunned. I told him I hoped this was his 2nd lap, but he grinned and said no, first lap, and that his friend had been keeping him “stocked” all day. The gal next to me and I agreed he was nuts.
All along the course were various chalk drawings on the ground, cheering people on, and signs on stakes stuck into the grass next to the run path. One of my favorites was at about mile 10: Mortuary ahead… look alive!
As I was coming back into town to complete my first lap, I was feeling pretty good. Everything hurt, I was tired as hell, but my brain was still functioning. The sun was out, and I was having fun. No really. I kept checking in with myself during the run to make sure I was enjoying it, because this might be the only time I do a full Ironman distance race. Each time I checked, the answer was a resounding Yes.
At Special Needs I re-applied some sunblock spray and grabbed the spare laces I’d stashed. They tell you multiple times not to ever put anything of value in the Special Needs bags because you will not get them back. My elastic “speed laces” were getting a bit worn and I’d forgotten to get new ones, so just in case they decided to snap I had put some regular laces in the bag. I’d made it half way and figured I wouldn’t need them, but didn’t want to lose perfectly good laces, so I grabbed them and put them in my pocket. About two blocks later I spotted my fans and handed off the laces to Alida for safe-keeping (which apparently caused quite a flurry of questions from my family, which I later found hilarious).
A couple deliciously downhill blocks later I made the turn to head back out, having averaged 13 minute miles for that stretch. Slowing down, but still moving, and more importantly, still running.
I passed by my family again on the way out (they had crossed the street while I was going through the turnaround), dished out some more high fives and said something like “this is a long damn day!”
Into the second lap I went! I was now only 13 miles away from being an Ironman, a title I kept telling myself I would not have earned if I walked. NO WALKING, DAMMIT!
I was now only occasionally having a salt tab, since I could tell the “Ironman Perform” sports drink was crazy salty by how much thirstier it made me every time I tried some. I was also sampling a Gu Chomp every now and then, and later I even had a chip and a pretzel. How bold!
On the way back out the sun was starting to set, and I could see that it was shining directly in the faces of people going the other way. I didn’t change my pace, but secretly hoped I was slow enough that it would be fully set by the time I was returning.
By mile 15 I found that what I thought had hurt before was nothing compared to what hurt now. My joints ached and begged me to stop, but the only relief I gave them was walking the couple dozen yards of each aid station. Also, I felt a wicked blister growing on my right heel, and another under my left forefoot, which I would later discover was just due to not putting my left sock on very well, so it had a crease. Doh.
Around mile 19 or 20, just after climbing the monster hill for the second and final time, a truck going by me slowed down, and this cute girl stuck her head out the window to cheer me on and ask me how it was going. I said something like “I’m getting it done,” and wondered if I’d gained some random admirer or if I was just hallucinating. After she’d turned and headed back to town I replayed the scene in my head and saw there was a child in the seat next to her, and realized it was a friend of mine that grew up in the area and must have been visiting with her daughter. Figuring all that out was a welcome distraction.
As I came down the hill towards the turnaround, a gal behind me was telling her friend how it was ridiculous that they put it at the base of a hill. I half turned and asked, “is there anything about today that isn’t ridiculous?” and they both laughed. It’s weird how, even though it felt like I was giving all I had just to keep moving, my brain still had enough juice to make wisecracks.
At the turnaround was a volunteer warning everyone to slow down, slow down, tight turn here, watch yourself… which was stupid and amusing and wonderful. My average for that stretch was 14:08. Oof.
Over the next mile I did the math in my head (well, I tried… things were getting a bit fuzzy), and discovered I had a chance of beating 15 hours after all. It meant pulling 10 minute miles for the remainder of the course, but a glance at my watch told me I was already doing that. Awesome! Oh, no, wait, I’m going downhill. Crap.
Even so, I tried to squeeze a little more speed out of my legs, but each time I got close to 11 minute miles I felt like the wheels were going to come off any second. I’d rather be able to say I ran the whole thing and miss the 15 hour cut-off than hurt myself trying to beat it and end up walking. So mile after mile, aid station to aid station, I kept moving.
With a couple miles to go I was finally able to compute that I was indeed going to beat 15 hours, and handily. I was shocked and elated and wishing it was over already. At this point, I was firmly decided to never, ever do an Ironman distance race again. It just hurts too much and takes too long. It’s stupid.
With a mile to go, the people who’d been shouting “you’re almost there” all day were finally safe from my wrath, as they were finally correct. Seriously, don’t ever shout that unless we’re within sight of the finish line. It’s annoying and makes us want to punch you in the face.
A half mile out, there’s a coned and chalked area where the 1st lap people have to veer to the right while watching the 2nd lap people veer left, and wishing like heck they were able to follow suit. Now I got to veer left and it felt amazing. The shouts from the volunteers were now “6 blocks to go”…. and then “5 blocks to go and all downhill”… and I started grinning like mad.
While on the run I figured out what I wanted my finish line pose to be: the double horn, because Ironman is fucking metal! I was worried about forgetting to do it though, so in the last couple blocks I got my hands ready, which made for a somewhat funny looking just-before-the-finish photo:
I didn’t see my fans in the final approach, but did hear my dad holler “Way to go!” and then the announcer was saying my name, and then I was crossing the finish line, and I was an Ironman.
As soon as I crossed, a volunteer came up and stayed next to me, making sure I wasn’t going to collapse (as some do). I was offered several space blankets, which I declined, as I still felt quite hot. They removed the timing chip and gave me my medal and hat, and pointed me in the direction of the finisher’s photo booth.
As I got further from the crowd near the finish line, more night air hit me and I was suddenly very chilled. Fortunately there was a volunteer right there offering me yet another space blanket, which I gratefully took.
I made my way towards the food and grabbed a couple slices of pizza (veg & cheese) and some chips. I’d decided a while back that I would revert from vegan to vegetarian for my recovery week, and I was looking forward to eating ALL THE CHEESE. The pizza was… just OK, but the chocolate milk was fantastic.
I sat down at a table within the “athlete’s only” area and watched for my fans to come down the path on the other side. Unfortunately, some official was putting up papers on the fence with people’s finishing times, blocking my view, so I had to get up and go out there anyway. Just as I did, though, there they were, and many hugs and high fives were exchanged.
My family eventually had to take off to make the long drive back to Pullman. Alida and I stayed and watched the last few people finishing, which was epic. A gaggle of volunteers would come running in with someone, see them to the finish line, then turn and sprint back out to escort the next one. The very last gal seemed like she would make it, but in watching the video (27:57), it seems she did not. What happens next is amazing, and you should watch it.
We went back to the hotel, and Alida was a trooper in going back to the car for a second load of stuff after I got my bike to the room. Then I had to rinse out my wetsuit and jersey/shorts and bottles, take a shower, and then finally, after being awake for 22.5 hours and travelling 140.6 miles under my own power, go to sleep.
The Recovery (whiskey and donuts)
I expected to sleep for at least 12 hours, but woke up after only 6, which is bizarre. My legs were pretty sore, of course, especially the outer tendons of my ankles (peroneus longus & brevis, I think), so I was limping a little. I had weird sun burn patterns from hastily applied sunblock, and a little wound at the back of my head where my helmet strap rubbed every time I turned my head before making a pass. Other than those minor complaints, I seemed to have survived pretty unscathed. Amazing!
Alida left to see about finding me some donuts while I lounged. After finding two shops out of donuts and one closed, she returned and resorted to using a phone book (how quaint!). She found one open up in Hayden and I joined her for the drive. I had great fun choosing a dozen delicious morsels of fatty goodness that I don’t ever eat normally, and we returned to the hotel. Then this happened:
Over the course of the day I polished off the whiskey (Alida helped), 8 donuts, and 2 movies. After a fantastic nap we went back to Moon Time for dinner, where this happened:
Another great night’s sleep and a marvelous drive home the next day, then work, then more work, and then THIS HAPPENED (here):
The Next Race
Near the end of the marathon, and for most of the next day, I was sure I never wanted to do a race that long again. Of course, the pain faded, then the memory of the pain faded, and what was left was the amazing, glorious feeling of running down the finisher’s chute, having completed this amazing journey. Now I can’t wait to do it all over again.
swim: 1:33:17 / bike: 7:27:44 / run: 5:28:31
(distances: 2.4 / 112 / 26.2 miles)
placed: 236/273 in my division, 1717/2314 overall
(not sure where 2800 dropped to 2300… people who signed up but didn’t appear at check-in, maybe…)