But I get up again.. cause you're never gonna keep me down. Over and over again, that song just kept playing in my head somewhere after a spill at mile 50 of the bike leg in Ironman Lake Placid.
Ironman is a tough cookie. I'm reminded of that each time I attempt this distance and no matter how it goes, you're always humbled by it's lack of compassion and it's general relentlessness of character. Ironman got it's name for a reason, that is for sure. If you finish in 9 hours, or 17 hours or in my case, not at all at 136 miles, it still hurts and it hurts bad. You've got the Ironman stagger as you walk up steps into ho-jo the next day, you can't sleep because everything hurts every time you roll over and you have to hold onto something when you attempt to sit down on the john. Yep, that's Ironman. No mercy.
It took me a few days, but by Saturday I had wrapped my head around that Sunday might just be the day I had been waiting for over the last few months. All the pieces were in place and the thought of sub-10 after talking with my coach seemed like more of a possibility than it ever had before. Not that I was going to let time or anything else dictate my day. That's not how you go sub-10. You follow the plan and the plan seemed extremely manageable and clear to me. In my heart, I knew the plan was possible, the next day would be all about execution and nailing the controllables just as I had done in training time and time again.
After my best night's sleep ever before a race, let alone an Ironman, I felt confident and ready. Mentally and physically I knew I was right where I needed to be. A few extra bathroom stops didn't deter me that morning, that was just nerves... nothing to get excited about I told myself.
I almost missed getting in the water with the other pro's. I didn't realize how many people were already trying to funnel through only a tiny hole in the fencing and it was already 6:30am. I had nailed my morning nutrition and it was game time. Finally, a chance to show what I've been working so hard on day after day. A chance to race and darn it, I love to race more than just about anything else.
Within seconds I fought my way up, kissed Kyle goodbye and was in the water next to Andy Potts and the other pro's warming up. All I could see was masses of green and pink caps beyond the flags creating a make shift line across the lake. It was time, the kayaks gave us a time check 6:45. This was it.
One shot and we were off. I swam like I was starting an Olympic race attempting to keep in contact with the faster women. They split around some men and dang it, I lost the feet I was attempting to follow. Stroke, breath, stroke, gasp for air, harder!! Those swim starts hurt so badly. I'm not sure I will ever get used to them. The girls I was trying to follow ended up together, two of them and just 8-10 yards ahead. I felt smooth and thought I could catch them for a minute or two, but the more I gauged their effort and my own, the more I realized they were staying the same distance away. Jesse, my coach, said swim hard, even if I found myself alone, so I tired to concentrate on staying in the moment. After crashing into multiple large yellow buoys with my arms and even ended up under them a few times I moved a bit further right of the line. On the way back in the smooth water turned to chop - ahh the mass start was only 30-40 yards away and coming fast. I didn't feel great on the way back and wished I could burp or make my stomach settle somehow. When I finally bounded out of the water for my first loop I tried like hell to burp, no dice, run in and dive, second loop. Time check: 31:32. Right on track.. man I wish I had feet though.
Felt not great at all on the second loop... Ugh. Girls ahead are not longer even in sight. Keep swimming hard, keep swimming hard. Finally, the fastest age group swimmers caught me and I attempted to draft. They were so fast!
Out of the water.. finally hitting the beach I was thankful. I was glad the swim was over. Through T1 like a breeze, bike waiting for me (thanks awesome volunteers!). I saw coach Jesse, "Solid Swim!" he yells. Cool, time to execute by calming down, getting the heart rate down and getting in fluids.
Except the heart rate never goes down. In fact, it is looking more like an Olympic distance than an Ironman. We hit the hills and any chance it had of coming down forces it up again. I back off, as slow as I can go.. relax, relax, relax, drink! Everyone passes me.. it's still 168. Power is in the tank. "It's a fluke, it's just taking some time to settle, back off and drink" I tell myself. We hit the big decent at mile 15 and it shows no signs of dropping below 160. I try to let it go, but we didn't really discuss what to do if this happens. Do I go by power (which is supposed to be way higher than I seem to be able to push) or heart rate (which is off the charts so I would have to really hammer it to get the power averages I've been seeing on EVERY training ride and that will only send it up further?!?)? I don't know. I settle for somewhere in the middle & focus on controlling the nutrition.
We move through towns, but I don't feel great. Something is off, I can't put my finger on it. I can't push. I try not to get down, a lot can turn around in an instant in Ironman. Any second things can just click and I'm back. The day is far from over. I still believe my day is in there and it will show up any second.
I get a tad behind on bottles. I mange 3 in the first 2 hours (1.5, 24oz bottles per hour). I keep dumping perform down the hatch, following my plan. I see my family and smile. I don't want them to know I"m hurting and not feeling great. No reason to say it out loud. By mile 45-50 of the bike the age group men are everywhere and my teammates are passing me. I can't respond. I'm hanging on, but barely.
Reaching for a drink I miss the big crack in the road and within seconds I'm on the ground feeling the road burning up through my back. The bike falls on top of me and bounces off. I hear the riders around me screeching to a stop. They are above me asking if I'm ok, at least three men stop and check on me. After 30 seconds I realize I am and they help me up. I'm scared and hyperventilating, but moving. They need to go on and finish their race. Thank you for stopping guys. Even though I don't know who you are, that meant a great deal to me. After drinking the rest of my Perform I decide I'm fine. I've only lost 5-7 minutes. Time to move on.
I get knocked doown, but I get up again.. cause your never going to keep me down.
"What else could go wrong!?" I ask myself! It has to get better from here. I've gotten the crappy stuff out of the way. We head into town and my spirit is renewed a bit by the cheers. We head out and my heart rate has dropped to 157. This is not where it is supposed to be by any stretch, but at least it's a little lower. It's now been 3 hours and I still haven't even had to pee. Great. I pull the bike over at 60 and get off to hit the bushes. I'll just try to go! Nope, hardly anything. Got to get on those bottles. I'm already dehydrated.
I'm drinking like a mad fool. Seeing my family I finally break down and tell them I crashed, but I'm ok. Blood dried in a mess on my knee, I can feel the road rash under my jersey and on my shoulder and lower back. The sun comes out and turns up the heat even further. We hit a head wind as we wind back into town and I start trying to turn it on a bit going up the hills. Someone remarks I look fresh "Ha.. if they only knew the half of it" I think. Fresh, not so much. I see Kyle and he tells me to hang on, things are happening that are game changers and I am still "in it". My heart swells... I have high hopes for the run though and it lifts my spirits.
My time is no where what I thought it would be at the end of the bike, it's at least 10 minutes slower. It's obvious why, "let it go" I tell myself. We head into town and get me OFF this bike.
In the tent the volunteer ladies make me laugh when they see my knee and I explain I'm ok, but it's been a rough day so far. They encourage me and I run out yelling, whooping and hollering. They LOVE it and cheer me on.. super fun, who knows! Maybe the best is yet to come.
By mile two I know it's not. I'm running into the port-o-pot and it is NOT pretty. One time, ok.. not a big deal. By mile 3 I'm in the woods / yard of someones house, crap, literally. I wonder if the Imodium I took at 5:00am has worn off.. I guess so. I have it in my special needs back... at mile 13 - UGH.
I take everything I have in my emergency pill box - 2 pepto and gas ex. I'm still running 7:30 miles. I can do this, just keep moving Kim!! Getting the fluids in is going to be critical since I'm loosing them almost instantaneously. I drink at aid stations, but within minutes I'm off the course again. Finally I hit a stretch from mile 8 to 13 where I only go a couple times. I"M BACK!!! I pass on my special needs bag (Idiot move), and keep running. Jesse tells me out of town I'm in 5th, 24 minutes back from first. "Who cares about first, I'm going to be lucky to not poop my pants by the end of this thing" I think!
Out of town the cramps start coming swiftly and more serverly than before. I can't make it two minutes before yelling "noooo" and running into whatever cover I can find. I'm staggering. People are asking if I'm ok. I keep plugging along this time more slowly and I refuse to look at my watch. With 12 more miles I start wondering if I can finish this thing in one piece.
I start getting worried and walk a little, then I sit down behind a bush and try to catch my breath / evaluate. Finally, I pick myself up again and start walking and then running again. I trod along like a zombie half walking half running to the turn around at 17 miles. I hit up more bathrooms or whatever I can find. Does that look like poison Ivy? Man I hope not.. that would sure be a perfect ending to all this.
At mile 20 I'm walking and a gentleman next to me says "I guess you're not having the day you wanted" looking at my fancy number on my arm. "Nope, but I'm trying to finish, sometimes that's all we can do". I know I'm well out of 5th at this point, but I really want to get in. He looks at me with kind eyes and says "you know, I respect that you're trying to finish, I know you guys have to pull out sometimes, but it's nice to see you trying to make it just like the rest of us." I said, "yeah, last year I was the rest of us, I still am, just competing against a different group of girls, that's all". He asks if I want to run with him, I tell him I can't, I'm just too sick. We say our goodbyes.
Finally, the big hill... we are almost back into town. I round the corner and see the 22 sign. I start walking and then all of the sudden the world starts to spin. I stop and hold on to a guard-rail trying to decide if I can puke or what's going to happen next to stop the spinning. A women comes up and taps me on the shoulder "Let's walk together up this hill" she says. I want to walk with her in the worst kind of way.. she pats my back, says kind things.. I can't move.. I just want to puke.. let it happen. She continues to talk to me but I don't hear anything.. I just keep shaking my head.
Volunteers are suddenly around me and they are asking questions and motioning for medial. An EMT shows up and asks me a few question about my breathing but mid-sentence I say, "I have to go - NOW" he tries to convince me to make it to the port-o-pots but I can't. We cross the road where he helps me over a steep ledge and holds my arm while I go.. I think this has to be one of my most embarrassing lowest times yet.
When he pulls me up he looks at me and says only two words..
I know it is too.. I'm a mess. I half walk / half stumble while he helps me to the ambulance ten feet away.
The Ironman didn't beat me on Sunday. Whatever my body had going on caused a series of events that were insurmountable. Despite every effort to counter them, when your body wants what it wants it will not be reasoned with or talked sense into. We are at it's mercy to some extent.
Despite all of the things that day, crying when I saw Kyle because of the disappointment, feeling the rock bottom of knowing I was going to DNF for the first time, I don't regret standing on that starting line. Up to that point, I did everything right. I was in the right frame of mind, my head was on straight and I was ready in every sense of the word (that I knew about anyway). Whatever was going on phyisologically, I couldn't control that, but the other factors, well those I molded and adapted to each step of the way and sometimes those are the hardest parts of all. Those parts of an Ironman are a given. Everything is NEVER going to go completely right.
The next time, if I can just get a few manageable things that go wrong well then I guess that will seem not only possible to overcome, but probable.
I'm still grieving. I might be for a bit more, but I know this.. I gave everything and I mean EVERYTHING I had that day. Many nights after I've been up at 2:00am going through the scenarios and there isn't much at all I would change about my choices or my mental attitude. Whatever was going on in there probably couldn't have been stopped with that last Imodium in my special needs, it was already a freight train at that point. I had lost so so much fluid. My body was running on empty. Honestly, it's surprising I made it as far as I did.
The people I met that day were not just my fellow competitors, they encouraged me and they didn't know me from Adam. They wanted to help and they kept trying and trying. My fellow competitors cheered for me and seeing how well they were doing gave me a lot of joy considering they are my friends and teammates. QT2 had an excellent day going 1,2 and 3 women. They are some not just amazing athletes, but also people and Suzy, who took 4th has also become a good friend. I'm very proud of all of them. I know I would have been right there in that mix if things had been different and hopefully on another day, I will be.
"Some races are like stars. and some are like stones...but they are all ROCKS we build of off." Brett Sutton
Until then, I'm going to take a small break from this blog, and triathlon and think of all the good people I met that day, my good Pittsburgh friends who cheered for me like I was winning the whole sha-bang and my family who I knew would carry me in their arms to the finish if they could have.
I know there are many things to be gained from this race and they will come into play at a later date. God has a plan for these things too. The outpouring I've seen after this one has been pretty amazing in itself via facebook, emails and messages. You know who you are and thank you. Those words have really helped.
To my family on the course, Kyle, Deb and Robert.. I love you so much. Thanks for being there in the ups and downs and for being our silent sponsors for Ho-Jo's etc :) To my other family and friends all watching online and posting on Facebook / Twitter - your words picked up me and are helping to make me whole again. Thank you. Thank you to my sponsors who never give up on me and who I know will see me through.
Don't worry.. I'll be back.. I can't wait to see what the next adventure brings... until then.. time to let this heart and these surface wounds heal!
"Success is not achieved by winning all the time. Real success comes when we rise after we fall. Some mountains are higher than others. Some roads steeper than the next. There are hardships and setbacks but you cannot let them stop you. Even on the steepest road you must not turn back".
- Muhammad Ali
Ballou Skies for allowing me to be part of this great team that does so much good for boys with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. Power bar for fueling me with delicious products that never fail me on race day. Newtons for helping me run with good form and hopefully, get speedier with time. Top Gear for outfitting me with a bike that works and helping me learn how to fix it along the way. Jesse my coach at QT2 Systems who I cannot say enough good things about! You are providing the tools to make this dream possible. Blueseventy for supporting our Ballou Skies team with super fast wetsuits and speedsuits!! You all keep me in the game, faster, longer and stronger – I can’t thank you enough!