Aaaand then the run. I knew it would hurt. The run felt like an eternity. I thought I would run a 11 minute mile, but I did not take into account the miles of soft sand that we had to go over and over and over. I was feeling pretty tired going into it- I knew I didn’t have enough nutrition in me, so I grabbed a cliff bar at the first aid station and took my dear sweet time walking and eating. It was hard to swallow but I knew I had to force it down. One woman passed me and encouraged me to pick up the pace- I mumbled that I was enjoying my snack first. She backed off. It might have come out a little hangry…
Once I got up onto the concrete I just started shuffling forward. About a mile in I started having a mental crisis. I had been out there for 5 hours and I was really tired. I was already DQ’d, why bother? There was no motor in my legs at all, as if springing forward to run was a foreign concept. I could go home, put my feet up, have a beer. But I also knew how disappointed I would be if I came all this way to throw in the towel. Six months down the drain. So I made a deal with myself. Shuffle to the aid station and I could walk. Drink water, gatorade. Then I told myself to shuffle to the end of the turn around, walk a few steps, and shuffle to the soft sand. Made it. Walk to the hard pack. Shuffle down to the next aid station. Water, gatorade. Back onto the soft sand. Walk to the concrete. Shuffle to the aid station. Water, gatorade. And repeat three more times. It was mind numbing.
I should have been taking more gels but my stomach felt all sorts of full and gurgley, I just wasn’t interested. Occasionally I took some red bull or pretzels or sucked on an orange just to get some salt and sugar. I wasn’t moving very fast- once I saw 10:40 flash across my watch, but mostly I saw 12 and 13 minute miles. It was also getting very hot- mid 80s, and I started dumping ice down my bra and my back to keep my temperature down. I was surprised that the heat wasn’t affecting me more, though it probably was hitting me harder than I realized since everything was one big painful numbing. At one point I took a look at my heart rate and was shocked to see 154! To think that when I started training I would average a 189 heart rate on short runs. Seeing such a low number now was such an amazing testament to all of the work I’ve put in.
The best thing of all was seeing my friends out on the course. My best friend Dana and her husband showed up on the sand at loop 2 and I smiled and waved and yelled at her to never let me do this again. My next-door neighbor drove down and ran a few steps along side me, telling me how he had been up and down the route trying to find me. My swim friends Dallas and Matt volunteered at an aid station- Matt was the captain and he gave me a big hug and pep talked me every time I passed, reminding me to keep tossing cold water and ice on my head. I really looked forward to seeing them every loop.
Yes, I was in pain, but I thought I would be in more pain. My upper abs felt like one solid block of cramp, I could feel blisters rubbing on my toes, and my quads felt like bricks. Shockingly, my hip and IT band were holding, and I was super happy about that. I expected them to be my nemesis and they weren’t a problem at all. Honestly, besides the mind-numbing monotony, the hardest part was seeing how many people were finished while I was still out there. By the last lap we were almost 7 hours into the race and there were very few of us left on the course. I kept seeing the same 3 or 4 people- I would pass them, then walk. They would pass me, then walk. By the time we hit the fourth loop we were all kind of laughing whenever we saw each other. Laughing in a grim, macabre sort of way.
Finally I fell into step with a girl named Sarah. She was cramping really bad, so we got into a walk-run pattern together, chatting about where we were from and how we came to live in San Diego. It was also her first half ironman, and she had run a marathon this year as well. Like me, she just wanted to prove to herself that she could do it. We stuck together until the end, pushing each other to keep moving. A quarter mile out she asked me what I was planning to do for the finish line photo. I hadn’t a clue- very unlike me, the triathlete who is very camera aware on the course. There would probably be some awkward hand tossing at least.
We agreed to split up to have separate finish photos, so I surged ahead into the chute. At the entrance was my Tone it Up Arizona friend Lisa- she and her husband were vacationing an hour and a half north and drove all the way down to see me finish! At that moment I was so grateful I didn’t give up- I wanted to give something to the people who had supported me on this journey, and finishing was the best thing I could give them. Bolstered by her sudden apparition, I picked up the pace to stride across the line. Then I turned in my chip, took my medal and finisher’s hat, and turned around to hug Sarah. Finally, we were done.
7 hours 27 minutes after I started. 69.7 miles, I had a medal and a finisher’s hat, but an official DQ. And shockingly, I didn’t care. I thought I would be devastated to not have that official time, but I was just so happy to be done and alive after the experience, I felt nothing but relief. And I came to a very important realization: I did not have fun.
I love triathlon. I have a blast doing sprint races. I smile at the cameras, high five people, push myself to move faster. This race I felt like I was just falling forward. It was miserable. I know that it was an incredible feat, and that most would just give up after DQ’ing the swim. I was just damned determined to cross the line. I thought I would cry with emotion having completed the race. All those months of training and money that went into getting to that finish, I thought I would rejoice, feel fulfilled, feel like a (half) ironwoman. In the end, I just wanted it over with. Maybe it had something to do with the mental hammering I took on the swim, and then for the entire duration of the race carrying the knowledge that I had DQ’d already. Maybe. I exited the finish chute, gave my mom a hug, and said I am never doing that again.
I know, never say never. A teeny tiny part of me wants to know what I could do on a course without a swim advisory and a run that doesn’t trudge across sand for 6 miles. But a very large part of me needs my hobbies to be fun. And that was not fun. I’m too competitive to have “finish” be my goal forever- and I know that I am not athletically talented enough to be competitive in long distance. But this year I’ve proved that I am talented enough to be competitive in the sprint distance, at least locally, and I can train to be even faster.
So for now I don’t have any plans to do another long course race.
But I do have plans to get back in the gym on Monday and start building some speed.