Today is a cloudy day in KY as Leigh and I sit drinking coffee before heading over to the race site for the "Gatorade swim practice". It will be our first experience swimming in the Ohio River. The water temp is warm enough to make it non wetsuit so that is a positive for me other than the fact that the air temp tomorrow morning will be in the mid 50's. The swim start for the race is actually different than any other Ironman race as it's a "time trial", meaning that a couple of people jump in the water every 3 seconds and your race time starts as soon as you cross the timing mat. Apparently people will line up at the swim start at 5am (the race doesn't start until 7!) but I don't think I want to stand in line that long.
Yesterday we rode part of the bike course and we got to see that we are going to have a pretty challenging bike ride. It will be somewhat scenic though so that will be nice. Not that we do much sightseeing while racing! We did attend the pre race banquet last night and there are 800 first time Ironman athletes. There is a guy who lost 201 lbs in training for this race and of course a guy who is on his 36th Ironman. Lots of good personal stories.
Today is going to consist of taking the bikes down to transition, loading bike bags and run bags and making sure everything is in working order. You are given a red bag for your bike to run transition, blue bag for you swim to bike transition, another bag for special foods on the bike, a bag for special foods on the run, a bag for pre race clothing.............that's a lot of bags! It's really an amazing production to pull off really. Keeping 2500 people organized to have a great experience is a big deal. There are 3,000 volunteers to facilitate this whole event..........they truly are the key to the Ironman experience.
Ok for those of you who haven't done an Ironman, or for those who will be experiencing their first one in the near future, I am going to give you a taste of what the day entails. Ironman is a fascinating event and the experience is really like nothing else I have ever done. Each time I do one of these races, it is a unique experience. The day begins at 4:30 with some coffee and nervous energy while trying to force down some breakfast. Generally, I actually love to eat but race morning brings so much anxiety that it is very difficult to relax and eat. Then we lug our nutrition and fluids down to the transition area and get the lovely tattoo of our race number all over our bodies. We do all the pumping of tires and checking and rechecking of all sorts of things on the bike and people watch to see if there is something else we should be doing. We will have a mile walk to the swim start from the transition area so the next step is to head to the swim start and stand there anxiously awaiting the send off. The first few minutes of the swim are absolute chaos with hundreds of arms and legs thrashing around you and on you that it is difficult to get into a groove and relax. You are allowed 2 hrs and 15 min to complete the 2.4 miles of swimming and if you come in at 2 hrs and 16 min, you are not allowed to continue the race. Fortunately for Leigh and I who are efficient swimmers, the swim is more of the warm up for the rest of the race as it is the shortest part. As you exit the swim, you grab you gear bag and proceed to the changing tent. (there are separate changing tents for men and women though!) Since it will be in the 50's race morning, my plan is to wear my regular swim suit and then change into my bike shorts and racing top so that I can be dry starting the bike portion. The volunteers in the tent are helping you change (no time for modesty here!) and applying sunscreen, offering you water and helping you gather your stuff so that you can head out and get your bike. Now onto the 112 miles on the bike. The first 56 miles are actually really enjoyable b/c all you can think is "I am doing an Ironman!" Then around mile 85 the race begins. Your legs are now getting tired, your fluids are no longer cool and refreshing, your "saddle area" is not happy to be on the bike at all, you are sick and tired of ingesting artificially flavored gels and beverages, your neck, back and toes are tingling from being in the same position for so long and you are now faced with the looming marathon. It becomes very difficult to stay focused and the only thing you want to do is "get off this stupid bike!" The last 20 miles seems like an eternity but it is pure joy when you roll into transition and hand your bike off to the nice volunteer. Of course as you step off the bike you are painfully reminded that your legs do not remember how to hold your body upright. It's an awkward few hundred yards to get your gear and head back into the changing tent. Everyone has a their own quirky habits in terms of what happens in the transition from bike to run. Mine is that I must put on clean socks..........there is something slightly "refreshing" about that. Seems kind of silly actually though as the rest of your body is covered in salt, sweat and stickiness anyway. There is a brief moment of "Oh my gosh, I have to run 26.2 miles!" and then you tell yourself, "just start running". The first 2 miles are difficult as your legs just don't want to cooperate. But then you settle into a pace and you are once again elated that you are doing an Ironman. This lasts until about mile 15 of the marathon and then once again the fatigue levels are starting to become overwhelming and if you are lucky, you are still finding some sort of enjoyment over your calorie choices at the aid stations. "gatorade, cola, water, pretzels, gels, bananas, orange slices.........." It soon becomes a song in your head and none of them sound good. Mile 18, your gait is now modified to accommodate some muscle group that has decided to revolt against you. The aid stations/walk breaks become the light at the end of the tunnel. This is where decision time comes. You can either "choose" to walk most of the remaining miles (because that is like heaven compared to the pounding of running) or you "choose" to keep running. I have wanted to lay down in the street just to stop the pounding on the legs that those last few miles brings. Mile 23 is both the longest part of the race and the glimmer of hope that you need to keep going. Somehow if you can find the mental strength to tune out the fact that your whole body hurts, and run strong those last few miles, the finish line is the most glorious thing in the world. The same guy announces everyone that completes the race that day..........he is called the "voice of Ironman" and his voice is like music to your ears. And as you run across the finish line with hundreds of people lining the chute cheering for you, you hear those magical words.........."Heather Butcher, you are an Ironman!" I never get tired of hearing that as it makes all the suffering worth it.
Ok so there you have the idea of what the day will be, I will give the race account on monday. Thanks for all the thoughts and prayers as well as support. It means the world and it is that strength we can draw on when things get difficult.
See you after the race!