The Day I Became An Ironman

I can’t believe it has come and gone.

After a year of planning, training and obsessing.. Ironman Florida is over.  And I finished.

I am an Ironman.

Holy crap!

I really don’t know where to start because so much went on that weekend.  Traveling to Florida, getting towed in our first 5 minutes, playing at the beach with the kids, having friends drive from Illinois to watch, my husband being there for me at the end when I really needed it most…each of these things were blog worthy on their own.

For now I’ll just focus on my race.

Swim (1:43:50):

Oh my gosh I was bouncing around I was so excited in the morning. The girl on the beach was much different from the girl curled up crying in bed the night before. For a year I had been in fear of getting beyond the breakers.  There is a video online of the 2013 swim start that at points was the stuff of nightmares and I envisioned that video every time I thought about the swim.  During a few practice swims in the Gulf in the previous days something clicked.  I understood how to cut through the breakers, to swim in the waves, to deal with the swells.  I no longer had fear of swimming in the ocean.  As I was standing in the start corral moments before the race, I saw my friends from Illinois.  Crystal, Chrisy, Noel and Rebecca had driven down to be obnoxious, make me laugh and watch me become an Ironman.  My worlds collided.  I was standing with my triathlete friends from Richmond then was overwhelmed with hugs and signs and awesome t-shirts from Greenville.  These are 2 of my favorite pictures from the day, and I'm pretty it's because I was so excited and nothing hurt yet!

Tad and Amy and Unknown Whistling Triathlete dude
Chrisy, Noel, Me, Rebecca and Crystal...and a sign that says 140.6 miles to Bacon.  Sadly, they did not present me with bacon at the end.  I only just realized that this very moment!  WTH???

The swim was not wet suit legal, although you could wear one if you wanted.  I chose not to, and I was glad.  I’m sure any extra speed and buoyancy gained by the suit would have been offset by the discomfort of baking in black rubber in the sun.  One of the deceptive things about the swim start is a sand bar that is about 50 meters out from the shore.  Even if you start to swim, you have to get up and walk across the sand bar anyway.  The water was comfortable, and since it was self seeded, it wasn’t as crowded and crazy as it could have been.  Sighting was an issue.  I have a pretty standard pattern when swimming open water, swim 8 strokes, sight, swim 8 strokes, sight…but this pattern didn’t help much when it would be time to sight but I’d be at the bottom of a swell, no buoy in sight.  The current didn’t help much either…pushing me the wrong way.  I’d see the next buoy off to my right…redirect.  Next time the stupid thing was to my left…redirect.

It was a 2 loop swim, so we had to swim in, climb up the beach, run through the timing mat, run down the beach a bit and do it all again.  On the return to shore, the surf helped propel us forward.  I had my ass handed to me by one wave on my first return.  It pushed me down into the water and my chest hit the sand.  Unlike many out there, I managed to not drink any water.  Getting back in the water for the 2nd loop was daunting.  By now the breakers were curling at the top.  I laughed and yelled "Surf's Up!" but others near me weren't amused.  Otherwise the 2nd loop was similar to the first.  The current would push me wherever it wanted and I kept redirecting.  But I learned my lesson because on the second return to shore as we came to the breakers, I just body surfed those suckers in.  I’m pretty sure I even yelled “Wheeeee!” at one point.  Because of the obnoxious-ness.

Overall, my swim ended up being slower than I hoped.  (The whole day was slower than I a pattern was set).  My Garmin tracked my swim as 2.71 miles, there was a lot of sand bar navigating and then there was the whole lack of wet suit thing.  I was pleased none the less.  One thing that I wasn’t prepared for was the boredom.  After a while it got really freaking boring.  Boring, boring, boring, sight, boring, boring, boring, sight, boring, get kicked in the head, boring, boring, boring, big wave…

T1 (9:54):

I had heard tales of the changing area, but until you experience it yourself, you will never really understand. Right there in the athlete guide Ironman tells you that public nudity is not condoned…but it’s a free for all in the changing room.  First thing that I saw when I ran in was a giant set of tits.  They were pretty nice ones too!  Didn’t catch her face or race number on account of I was shocked to be looking right at her chest in all its glory.

But anyway...

The volunteers are amazing.  As soon as you run into the room there is a woman there who offers to help.  They help dump your gear bag onto the ground and help you pull your pants up, your top down and help hook your bra.  The woman who helped me has done several IMs and told me to breathe deep and enjoy the day.  I didn’t ask her name and hardly remember her face.  I think I was still traumatized by those boobs.

Bike (7:20:22):

I was all excited that my bike was racked in one of the first spots because of being on Team IMF.  It really didn’t give much of an advantage other than knowing where to run to and not having to read signs.  Whitney, the coordinator for Team IMF handed me my bike and I went on my way.  I can barely walk in my bike shoes because of the cleats I have, so I left them off until the last minute.  I took off and tried to stay calm.  I didn’t want to over do it in the first hours because I was too excited, so I made a conscious decision to keep myself in check.

Looking at pictures from that day crack me up because I realize I was hardly ever looking at the person who was actually taking pictures.  This is me leaving T1.

A friend had lent me his carbon wheels, and in practice rides I found I was much faster on them.  Usually I ride at a 16.5 mph average, and for the first hour according to my watch I was holding 17.9.  I kept telling myself not to push, and even switched into a lower gear.  It was really exciting going so much faster and I had super high hopes for the rest of the ride.  Then suddenly…out of nowhere…a 12 foot alligator crawled out in the road and I had to swerve to not hit it!!

For real!  It’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

The reality of losing control of your bike because you were trying to fill your aero bottle is too embarrassing, so Alligator Crossing The Road is what I’m going with.

I got up pretty quickly and assessed.  Big bloody goose egg on my elbow, bang on my hip, but my shorts were in tact so I knew it would just be a bruise.  Hit my head on the pavement and was grateful for the helmet that my friend Craig lent me, but it wasn’t cracked so I felt safe to go on.  Thankfully no one was around me at the time, so I didn’t take anyone out.  I would have felt horrible if my stupidity would have cost someone their race.  A passerby stopped on the other side of the road and came over to help me out.  He told me he had raced IMFL in 2013 and apparently that made him qualified to administer first aid.  I was a little shaken up and I’m glad he kept me there for a few minutes until I the shock wore off.  I got back on my bike and headed off for the rest of my day.

Because I didn’t really trust my judgement, I asked for a medic at an aid station about 15 miles later.  I kept bumping my elbow on my aerobars and it would start bleeding again and really wanted it wrapped up.  Also, I didn’t want to be stupid.  I knew I hit my head and wanted to make sure that I was OK.  My head didn’t hurt, I wasn’t nauseous, and I didn’t think the “light headedness” was anything more than the fact I had been moving for 3 ½ hours at this point.  They cleared me but I had to wait a bit for them to show up.  They came in an ambulance.  It was moderately humiliating.  (They didn’t believe me about the alligator either).

Got Gauze?  Nice wrap job, huh?  It would have looked more bad ass if it would have bled through the bandage, but hey, I'll have an that's something!

The remaining 95 miles on the bike were not as fun as those first 17.  I watched my average slowly go down.  And again with the boredom.  Boring, boring, boring, hill, boring, boring, aid station, stop, refill aerobottle, boring, boring, repeat!  The last 35 miles were not as bad since you didn’t see the officials riding around any more, and it wasn’t like any of us out there were in contention for Kona slots or Age Group Awards…so there was more riding side by side and conversation.  I realized it was like medicine to me.  Just a 5/10 minute chat with someone would rejuvenate me for a while.  I know…I talk too much.

One of the perks of Ironman is that when you get off the bike, you hand it off to a volunteer and they rack it for you.  (Unless you were at Maryland this year when you had to do your own manual labor).  I told the volunteer he could rack it or throw it in the dumpster.  I didn’t really care.  I was really really really glad to be off that bitch.  At this point I still felt OK, and was ready to rock the run.  I knew at that point I could do a 6 hour marathon and be pretty close to my 15 hour goal.

T2 (11:57):

The 2nd visit to the changing area did not have the same level of nudity as T1.  The volunteers were just as awesome, even more so at this point.  I don’t know if it’s just me, but I’m pretty disoriented when I’m in transition.  She was asking me fairly simple questions, but I kept just staring at her trying to remember the words I needed to use.  Anyway, this volunteer was also a multiple Ironman, so I trusted her when she told me since I brought a complete change of clothes that I should change.  I had been rained on and everything was wet.

On the other side of the room there was a woman passed out on the floor.  As disoriented as I was, I was grateful that I was still standing and moderately comprehending the world around me.  I was glad to be in dry clothes and ready to take on the run.

Run (7:05:59):

I already had planned on walking for the first ½ mile.  When you first start running after being on the bike, there is this period of time where you really can not feel your legs.  Its hard to explain.  You know they are there, you can make them move, but it takes a lot of faith to believe that they are actually underneath you propelling you forward.  Usually I end up much faster in that first mile than I intend so my plan was to walk until I had my legs back and then start my 5 minute run/1 minute walk intervals.

That’s when the nausea started.  As soon as I started to run I got light headed and felt a wave of nausea hit me hard.  I ran for 2 minutes then walked for a minute.  I tried again.  Nauseous again.  Walked a bit.  Ran.  Nauseous. Repeat.

By 2 miles I came to the realization that I wasn’t going to run and this was going to be a very very long walk.  Very long.  Walk.  #*^@*^@%!!!!!!!!

I hadn’t felt like that since my very first 70.3.  During that race, I didn’t have the nausea.  Just the light headed ness.  I walked the bulk of a ½ marathon.  I knew I could get through the marathon.  I knew it would be a very long day, but I knew I could do it.  So I just kept moving forward.  KEEP.  MOVING.  FORWARD.

I saw my friends from Illinois around mile 5 and I wanted to break down and cry on them. But as I walked up and opened up my mouth, a joke came out instead.  I told them I needed  a shirt that said “Walkers can put 140.6 on their cars too!”  I got some hugs and then kept moving forward.

One of my friends posted this on facebook.  They said I was the Energizer Bunny...just kept going and going.  I love this pic even though it's blurry because I look like I'm pulling off this whole triathlete thing even though on the inside I was hurting so bad at this point that I was fighting a break down.   Steph's new Ironman rule:  Fake it till you FINISH!

The run route takes you through residential areas, and the homeowners were out in full force. There were front yard parties, and signs, and crazy lights and costumes.  They were amazing.  As the evening went on (and on and on and on) they got progressively drunker…but wouldn’t share their beer which I found kind of sad. It is a 2 loop course that turns around in St. Andrew’s park which I’m sure is just a gorgeous piece of Gulf Coast real estate by day…but in the dark it was just pavement.

The aid stations were awesome.  I genuinely felt bad for not taking Gatorade, bananas, Gu or any of the other things they were handing out.  I stuck with water.  As much as my nutrition drink mix was making me sick…the cardinal rule of triathlon is NOTHING NEW ON RACE DAY and I wasn’t going to mess around and make matters worse.  I tried to thank everyone I came across, but there were so many volunteers that I’m sure I missed a ton.

I saw my friends around mile 10 and they told me my husband and kids were waiting for me by mile 13.  By this time I was hurting bad and just kept thinking in 45 minutes I’d see them, in 30 minutes I’d see them, in 15 minutes I’d see them…until finally I did.  I stopped for a few seconds and got hugs and kisses.  I clinged to Tom and told him I didn’t think I could do this anymore but he told me that I could and I would.  I walked to the special needs area, got my bag and walked back to them.  More hugs, more kisses.  The kids had been really antsy and had met their limit so Tom took them home.  I kept walking.  And walking.  And walking….

Eventually I was walking along side a guy named Philip.  He had a meniscus tear in his knee and this was his one and done IM.  He had to walk because he couldn’t run.  So we walked together.  And walked and walked.  At one point he had to stop and I kept walking ahead but he caught up.  Another time I had to stop and had to play catch up to him.  It went on like this for miles. And miles. And miles…

Around mile 20 I had to use the bathroom.  I had used liquid nutrition in part to avoid this situation, but nature called, so I had to use the porta-potty.  I know…TMI.  The worst part…sitting down.  I’m pretty sure even the staunchest germaphobe would have caved and sat down because squatting was not an option.  Even leaning my arms on my thighs hurt.  And it turns out I was wrong, the worst part was trying to stand back up. But I did.  With profanity.  Oh the profanity.

I had lost my walking partner at this point so I started back in to town on my own.  And it was so hard to get moving again.  That brief stop was just long enough for every muscle in my legs to think they were done for the night so I had to wake them up again.  It took a while but eventually I picked up the pace.  And I saw my friends again.  And I apologized to the two people walking near me for my obnoxious friends and then walked with them for a while.  We shared names but I only remember them as Crystal Lake and Maine.  There are a lot of people like that who I chatted with but don’t remember names…Bike Guy, Boston, K-T Tape lady, Poofy Ponytail…

About a mile later as Crystal Lake, Maine and I are starting to complain about all the hills on the run course (others referred to them as speed bumps but after 15 hours…they were hills...big hills) I saw a guy walking toward us that looked an awful lot like my husband.  It was.  After dropping the kids off, he came back and started walking the course until he met up with me.  It was so rejuvenating seeing him.  He told me that I would walk faster if I wasn’t making so many jokes with Crystal Lake and Maine and I rolled my eyes and kept walking.  He would tell me to march over the speed bumps hills, and I would roll my eyes and keep walking.  He would tell me how boring it is to spectate a sprint tri let alone an Ironman, and I would roll my eyes and keep walking.  I never felt more loved.

I don't have any pictures of Sherpa Tom walking with me for the last 5 miles of the "run" but this was him on the beach before the swim start.  He looked pretty similar!

Eventually we caught up to Philip again.  He was struggling at this point.  Not only his knee but his back.  He really didn’t think he was going to make it, but we kept walking.  I knew we would make the cut off but he didn’t seem sure.

We got this.
We’re almost there.
F**** speed bump hill.
Just to that parking garage and we turn left.
Just over a mile.
F**** speed bump hill.
Just under a mile.
.7 miles
Just after that building we turn left and then right to the chute.
Almost there.
There’s the chute.  .2 miles left.
Run it in.

While I’m trying to reassure Phillip that we are almost done and that he can do this, Tom is right there with me telling me I’m almost done and I better run all the way in.  When I got to the chute I started running and he walked to transition to get my bike.

I’ve visualized the finish line at Ironman for years.  Every time I did, my eyes welled up with tears and I would get choked up.  I’ve read that I should savor the moment, take it all in, high-5 everyone and enjoy it.  I did. I ran all the way in…ran…no shuffling…and had a huge smile on my face.  And I saw the bright lights, and I heard my name, and I heard him say “You Are An Ironman” and he was talking to me, and I sent secret hand signals to those at home and then I got to stop walking.  It all happened too fast. The finish line that is, not becoming an Ironman…that took a long freaking time.

Holy crap.

I am an Ironman (16:32:02)

The next hour or so was full of hugs,high 5s, pictures, gathering of stuff, walking to the car, trying to bend my legs to get into the car, trying to read all the texts and facebook posts, having to put the phone down because my arms and hands were shaking so badly, trying to get out of the car, getting my shoes off, getting undressed, showering, dealing with chaffing…oh the chaffing.

Tom and me
The girls again!  Chrisy, Noel, Becca and Crystal.
Cliff, Angie, Mindy and Rob

Will I do it again…yes, but not for a while.  I know that I finished, which is more than many people that day, but that run is already haunting me.  I wasn’t trained enough to deal with the issues I had that day.  If it had been a perfect day…no crash…no stomach issues…I MIGHT have made my goal of 15 hours.  Now I know what I didn’t know.  I’ve experienced it, and I know what to prepare for. But it won’t be for a long time.  My kids need to be older.  The training takes too much time away from them and from my husband.  They put up with a lot of neglect this past year.  I owe them my attention for a while.

Swim 2.4 miles.
Bike 112 miles.
Run 26.2 miles.
Lord it over everyone I know for the rest of my life.


  1. Point of clarification: We planned to have cooked bacon at the finish line, but with the stomach issues, we weren't sure you could even eat it. BUT Aretha DID HAVE a package of Bacon in her Basket-Shaped Metal self, you just didn't take Aretha with you and we had to present her to you again the next day.

    Love you! Proud of you! And you are an Ironman!!

  2. I have to say, we are all so damned proud of you. You mention you'll do one again some day. Maybe we'll make it a bro and sis event. I'm intrigued. Not sure I'm on board, but curious for sure.

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