Monday, June 22, 2009

I am an Ironman.

Yesterday was far and above the hardest day of my entire life.

Yesterday I battled physical and mental pain far and above anything I can ever remember.

Yesterday, I overcame all of it.

Yesterday was the day I became an Ironman.
In all of my training and race preparation, I never thought I'd have to worry about the 17 hour cut-off time. But that's what happened. The game of "can I walk X miles in X hours" was played nearly every mile of the marathon. But I'll back up...

After a pretty nice morning organizing my stuff and hanging with the team, Natalie & I stood side by side ready to conquer Lake CDA at 7:00am. Off we went, into the washing machine whirlpool spin cycle that is the Ironman swim. Luckily I do not get freaked out in open water, but the combination of getting constantly kicked and grabbed + choppy waters was apparently a bad one for me. I was feeling sick (which I figured was normal) before I headed out on my second swim loop. I knew it was bad when I actually got sick in the water an hour in. Still, made it out feeling confident and happy.

I don't really remember much about transition except the feeling of not knowing what was going on and not wanting to leave my happy chair to go bike. The woman next to me had DNF'ed (did not finish) the swim and gave me her tube sock armwarmers because I was too confused to find my own. I finished getting dressed (or I should say finished having two volunteers change me from swimsuit to bike clothes) - got my bike - walked it out - and go time. It took forever to warm up on the bike. Even the easiest gear I had seemed too hard. I peddled along as everyone and their mom passed me - but that was fine. This was MY race.

Within minutes on the bike I knew things were not good, and debated stopping at each bathroom I saw. I focused on taking my nutrition, but my stomach had the same effect it did at Longhorn last year. Stopped at the port-o-let (this would become a common theme) and then took off, feeling slightly better. Twenty two miles later came the hills. WOW. I have to say that this was the hardest bike course I have ever been on. I felt very under prepared for hill after hill of granny gear madness. The "Legs of Zeus" signs at each hill were SO TRUE. Luckily there were tons of awesome volunteers, spectators, signs, etc... to somewhat distract from those damn hills. The problem, however, was knowing I'd have to come back and do them again. But... not finishing was not an option! I'd walk my bike up them if I had to... and luckily I didn't.

I saw Esther in town before starting loop 2, and gave her a look which was returned by an equally "Uh oh" look... to which I quickly changed my face into auto-smile. My stomach was churning, nutrition was not working, and my legs felt empty. Anyway....I did manage to finish the bike course, even though the last 15 miles were spent in Panther's aero position (hands on aero pads. not very aero, but good to prevent vomiting.) Got to transition, sat down and was waited on by more awesome volunteers. Then D came in - yelling at me, "I'm so mad at you! Why didn't you tell me Scott and the kids were coming!?" Hehehe... I was asking everyone for some stomach pain relief, but there was nothing but pretzels. Tried those, but they just made me feel more ill. D & I left transition together, which was fun. So great to see her, and my other teammates, throughout the day. (By the way, I was so PROUD of her for getting through the swim so brilliantly - that was definitely a highlight for me.)

I tried to run a few times, but it wasn't happening. Stopped at the port-o-lets again, but nothing. Begged the medical people for help, but they had nothing to give me. Tried chicken broth, but it came up. At this point it became clear that in order to finish this thing, I would have to walk. There would be no running. That's when the game of "can I actually walk this and finish" began. My teammates saw me on the course and were so supportive, but eventually I just put my head down so they wouldn't see how upset I was. I saw Karen & Lindsey at the first turnaround and said "I don't think I will make cut-off"... luckily they'd done the math. 16 minute miles & they'd finish with room to spare. So I kept going. When I got back to town, I turned around to see Alisa, who would end up becoming my Ironman Angel. She caught up to us, walked with me, encouraged me, and ended up staying with me the rest of the race. We conquered rain, wind, freezing cold, and pitch darkness together.

When I say I don't think I'd have done it without Alisa, I'm 100% serious. The doubt and pain were setting in at this point, and having to stop each mile with stomach contractions was too much. But there she was, pushing me forward. With about 35 minutes to go, we reached mile 25 and then turned left down a street to the finisher's chute. Esther, Chris G, Maggie, Dionn, Nancy, and Shawnda were all there cheering for us, and then we knew we had it. Alisa & I grabbed hands and, for the first time, ran down the finisher's chute. There Mike Reilly called my name and said "You are an Ironman!" My teammates were there waiting, and I cried like a baby. :) Maggie went into sherpa-wonderwoman mode and took care of us the rest of the night.

They say you have your ups and downs in an Ironman. I'll be honest, I had far less ups than I had downs. My saving grace was my amazing teammates and friends. And, of course, awesome wonderful Maggie sherpa. I gave this course EVERYTHING I had. I kept thinking that on the bike - "You are leaving nothing behind. If nothing else, be proud that you won't regret not giving it everything." That plus "You are insane, E. This is the hardest thing ever."

Here I am in my cold-gear (Mylar blanket, plastic bag, tube socks) upon our return. More pictures to come, of course, but this was pretty funny. I'm smiling, and that's a very good thing.
Ironman Coeur D'Alene 2009 - CHECK!!!! I am forever changed.

18 comments:

Shorey said...

Way to gut it out (literally)! Amazing job, E!

Tim said...

amazing job Erin, way to stick with it work to push through the pain

Jess said...

i totally cried reading that...erin!!! that was some mental toughness my dear...you did it...i am very proud of you...

mel said...

I am so proud of you, Erin!!!!!

Sadie J said...

Wow! You are so tough. I don't know how you did that. Congratulations Ironman...get some rest!

JohnF said...

WOW. Congratulations. Way to endure.

Buzz said...

Holy-Moly. I really can't think of anything else to say. I hope that you are feeling better now Ironman.

Katie said...

Awesome job, Erin! Very inspiring.
Congrats Iron(wo)man!!!

Slaire said...

Erin you are an IRONMAN!!!!!
To tough out that race feeling so ill the entire time is truly amazing!!
Did you really sign up for next year?

MikeWinAustin said...

You and T3 in general owe Shorey and I a new mouse each. We must've clicked refresh 1,273 times yesterday and sent each other 217 emails following your journey!

Did they not have figs there? When u get back we'll pick some from your tree and make that stomach feel better!
; )

Running Jayhawk said...

Congratulations, Ironman!!

Hopefully I can exhibit some of your grit in Arizona this November!

Kyle said...

Erin Whalen - YOU ARE AN IRONMAN. I enjoyed seeing your wonderful smile as you crossed the line. Way to persevere through the pain.

shubbe said...

That's the thing that terrifies me most about Ironman. No matter how well prepared you are (and you were), anything can happen, and it's completely out of your control. Same's true of a marathon, or even a 5k, of course, but the time spent suffering is .. very different, of course. You were dealt a crappy (er.. sorry) hand, yet you still pushed through and crossed that finish line. It wasn't the race you wanted, it wasn't the race anyone wanted you to have, but you kicked its ass when it tried to kick yours.

Next year, it's payback time. Can't wait to train with you when we're both training for the same event. :)

kirsten said...

WOW - you are and IRONMAN. Don't know you but have enjoyed the tails of CdA prep and now the race. Congrats for getting it done!!

wendyspies said...

you go girl! that is sooooo awesome!

Anonymous said...

Great story, Erin. Makes those of us who have never tried an IM realize what a huge accomplishment it is!! Congrats!
Pam LeBlanc

KCWoodhead said...

Congratulations! I am glad to see that picture of you smiling at the end!

You are a strong woman, probably stronger than you ever knew, and that is the most important thing to take away from Sunday, regardless of what the clock says at the finish line.

Priscilla said...

Way to go :) Congratulations on sticking it out, we did it :)