Consequently I don't remember the experience as clearly as I once did. I find doing an Ironman is a bit like having a baby. After awhile you forget how unbelievably, horrifically, overwhelmingly difficult it was, and you start to fantasize about the glory of doing another one. Ironman amnesia!
Anyway, five weeks out from the race what I primarily remember about IM Maryland is this:
I QUALIFIED FOR KONA!!!
and I didn't even qualify on roll down! I just QUALIFIED!
Qualifying outright has always been a goal. It just hasn't been a goal I thought I actually might achieve. I finished 2nd in my age group. I'm still pretty giddy about it! Here I am signing up for Kona the morning after the race.
So, IM Maryland.
The days leading it up to it sucked.
Because the days leading up to any IM suck! (In my opinion...)
Feel free to skip this whole prologue.
The next few paragraph are me blathering about gratitude, or lack of it, and feeling grouchy and anxious the days before a big race.
I know I should be all smiley and like, I felt grateful, and confident, and ready to race. But I didn't, and in truth I never feel that way as I get near to a big race. What I feel is tremendous anxiety that morphs, as the day nears, into a powerful dread. I do believe there is worth in telling yourself you feel good, full of gratitude and confident before a race. If you are good at tricking yourself, you might even believe it. But that isn't easy. In fact, I find it impossible. The only gratitude I could muster was for Andy, who spent the punishing pre-race week with me. God bless that man. The week before IM Maryland I was an anxious, overwrought, brooding wreck.
So here is some truth:
(still blathering, fyi)
Leading up to a race I think a lot about how I want to do well in order to honor the inordinate amount of time and energy I spent simply getting to the starting line.
I don't pretend that I'm racing for some greater good or to make my family proud or to prove that anything is possible or whatever. I race because I need a home for my drive. I race because I like to feel accomplished and strong. I race because I love to work really hard at something and then get the prize of feeling self worth when I achieve more than I thought I could.
None of my effort is altruistic, and so in the days leading up to the race I feel the heavy weight of that fact. I've enslaved myself to the demon of self improvement, I've blown off friends in service to my training, I've gone to bed early instead of hanging with my husband, I've made my father-in-law drive the kids to school so that I can go to Masters swim practice and I've shirked taking the dogs for long walks so I can get in an extra mile when running. etc etc etc... The list goes on and on. I choose to spend a lot of time on triathlon, and that time is time taken away from other things I like to do and from the people I love. The reward for all this is the satisfaction of having a race in which I kick ass.
And so the dread and pressure.
Make it worth it. Don't disappoint yourself. Do. not. suck. Kick ass.
Thinking about executing a KICK ASS race--anticipating it--is torture. You desperately want it to be race morning--to be in that water and have the gun go off--and yet you also want time to just stop because it's coming so fast! I hate the days before the race so much that sometimes I contemplate giving up racing just so I don't have to experience them.
Okay, I'm finally done.
*race report starts here*
The days leading up tot he race were damp, gray and really, really windy. They made my dread even more visceral. I remember biking in the gray, windy mist the day before the race and thinking God, it feels like the end of the world is coming. Cue creepy music. Seriously ominous.
Then it was race morning. Andy, who had been so patient with me all week, dropped me off at transition. The weather was dark, windy and cold. Rain sputtered. I was lonely, wet and my teeth were chattering. There were deep, unavoidable puddles everywhere and a lot of ankle deep mud. My sneakers were soaking wet. If none of this sounds very fun, that's because it wasn't! I kept trying to think, BE HAPPY. BE GRATEFUL. BE KICK ASS.
But inside my brain the voices were more like... BE HAPPY. this sucks. BE GRATEFUL. fuck you. BE KICK ASS. this sucks. fuck you. this sucks. fuck you.
While my voices fought with one another I did all that stuff you do in the morning before a big race: nervously chatted with others, went to the bathroom a million times, pumped my tires. I put on my wetsuit early so I could get warm. I peed a bunch in my wetsuit. Then I went to the swim start. Where I waited. and waited and waited. They delayed the swim. They delayed it more. Then more.
I met some new friends as I waited. There were some guys from Florida sitting in the grassy patch of mud, and I sat down with them. We sat there in the spitting rain, curling our toes into the mud and we joked about how the swim would be canceled, not really believing it would be canceled.
And then they canceled it.
There would be a time trial bike start by number.
I learned later they canceled the swim because the wind was blowing hard in one direction, and the current was going in the other. They thought swimmers would get stuck and make no forward progress. Probably this was right... but I was extremely bummed anyway. First, I thought about the hours and hours I had spent swimming leading up to the race, preparing for it. Damn! Then I thought about how I was gunning for a Kona slot, and how without the swim my chances of earning one were much smaller. Double Damn! I am not an incredible swimmer, but I am a very solid swimmer. I finish at the top of my age group in most triathlons in the swim, and this gives me a head start on the bike, which is my weakest leg. Without that head start I knew my chances of getting Kona were slim.
Anyway, it was time to readjust! this sucks. I could do this! fucking fuck. I took off my dry wetsuit (dry except for the huge amount of peeing I had done in it since putting it on) and immediately I was freezing. It was still sputtering rain and the wind made it so cold. At one point a few nice women racked near me noticed I was blue in the lips and shaking violently. They were bigger women--or bigger than me, anyway... and they offered to sandwich me in a hug! And I said yes! That helped get me warm for real. They hugged me for like 10 minutes. No lie. I love those women. Sometimes things happen that reaffirm your love and faith in people. I finally felt the gratitude I wanted so badly to truly feel. That long, long, hug--being sandwiched between two women bigger than me who could make me warm--I was damn grateful for that.
After what seemed like hours we lined up according to number, and we were sent off at 10 second intervals. The numbers ahead of me consisted of women. All women. When I first got onto the bike and started passing people I felt as if I were in an all female race! It was a bit strange, as I have never actually competed in an all female race. Once on the bike I started to get warm again, but it did take awhile. I had put on a thin sweatshirt before the start because I was shaking so violently from the cold I thought I might not be able to balance on the bike once I got on it.
Exhibit A: The sweatshirt--not designed for racing--and certainly not something I had planned to wear racing. Note the blue lips--and this was taken a least a half hour into the bike I'm not lying when I say I was really, really, cold.
For the first 10 miles or so I focused on nothing except getting warm. My inner voices joined together in a chant that went something like, Must get warm. Must get warm. chatter chatter. Must get warm. I don't even think I looked at my bike computer for the first 30 minutes. I was just so cold. I realize now I was mostly likely hypothermic. Actually, I realized it then. My brain was fuzzy and I was on autopilot. MUST GET WARM.
The bike course was stunningly flat. It was, however, annoying windy. I mostly spent the first part of the bike passing women and telling myself not to fight the wind. Every once in a while a woman would pace me, and I would take note of her. My age group? I had studied the entry list and I knew exactly which women I had to worry about. I also knew that most of the women who might beat me overall would slaughter me on the bike--so I counted the women who passed me and told myself I had to pass each of those women back on the run. As I warmed up, I started to believe I could do it. I just needed to pull it together and focus.
I stopped at Special Needs because I finally felt warm enough to take off my sweatshirt. I also needed to grab some bottles and fix the center bolt on my cassette-which appeared to be unscrewing itself as I rode. I pulled up and started screaming my number. For some reason I was getting no response from the volunteers (or so it seemed to my addled brain) and I began to panic, screaming my number more and more loudly. (I'm sure those volunteers loved me! Gratitude!) Finally a volunteer handed me my bag, but by then I was in such a tizzy that I forgot to screw back in that bolt!
Still, I was no longer blue, no longer shaking, and I was ready to ride! (56 miles into the bike I was ready to ride. Awesome!) I just needed the bolt not to completely unscrew itself...
Then it started to pour.
This is not me, but this is the bike course a few hours later.
It poured for a lot of the second loop, but I had warmed enough and I was working hard enough that I didn't get super cold again. Phew! I played cat and mouse with a few people on the bike,and I re-passed a few of the women who had passed me earlier in the race. About a half hour after I had stopped at special needs I looked down at my cassette and that pesky BOLT WAS GONE. Just gone!
But my bike was still working... so maybe it was okay? I began to pray. Please don't fall apart on me little cassette! Please just hold on!
People often ask whether I get bored being on the bike riding for such long stretches. In practice, yes. In a race? Never. Why? Because the voices in my head scream at me the whole time! On this ride the voices went something like: Damn rain, Damn woman! I'll get you back on the run! Eat. How many bottles have I had? Drink. Drink now. Keep to your watts. No! Don't fight the wind! Pass that loser! Eat. Damn rain. Your cadence is too low. Drink! and so on.
By the time I rolled into the bike finish I was so relieved. No, the ride had not been stellar. BUT IT WAS OVER! And I hadn't over-ridden it, and my cassette was still intact, and I was no longer cold. I could do this!
I saw Andy as I got off the bike. Great ride, Mary! You got this! Of course, it hadn't been a great ride and he knew that, but what else was he going to say? Shitty ride, Mar! You better find those run legs fast!!
It's okay that he didn't say that. I already knew what I had to do. I had to run--and I had to run well from beginning of that marathon to the end. It was cool, I wasn't too tired, I had trained for this, and I needed to GET IT DONE. My confidence was back.
I stormed through transition and started the run. I felt great!
And then I realized I had to take a dump.
Like if I didn't find a port-a-john in 30 seconds I was definitely going to shit myself.
At the end of mile 2 I saw a set of port-a-johns and I beelined for them.
I had made it!
Apparently my body was like, Hey! Awesome! You found a toilet. Grab a magazine, sweetie. It's time to chill out...
After what seemed like five minutes the urge came back. (TMI... sorry!)
How much time did I lose?
I've decided that the results in any given race should read something like this:
Mary Holt-Wilson. Run. 3:40:27***
What does an asterisk mean here you ask?
You look to the bottom of the results and see:
* denotes a person who had to stop on the run to take a shit.
** denotes a person who had to stop on the run to take a shit and it took more than a minute.
*** denotes a person who had to stop on the run to take a shit and it took like FIVE FUCKING MINUTES.
Don't you think they should include such info?
Because... really. I ran faster than that damn 3:40.
I felt much better after my stop.
I began clipping off 8:10 miles, which was my target pace. I felt strong and I was passing people. I could do this.
The run had been re-routed because of flooding, but unfortunately, the re-routing still had us running in flooded areas. There were, I believe, 5 stretches of knee deep water that lasted from a tenth of a mile to a quarter mile. The course wove back and forth over these stretches 5 different times. So yes, we spent miles and miles of this race trying to get through water that was at best ankle deep, and at worst knee deep.
Side Note: This is a picture of John Young trying to run through a stretch of water. Many New England triathletes might recognize him. He has dwarfism. He is the first person with dwarfism to finish an Ironman! It was really cool to be on the course while he was.
Once I hit the first stretch of water I knew my run would be a bit slower than I had projected. On the plus side, though, I noted that most people were walking through the water. If I could just try to run through all of it, would I have an advantage?
The parts of the course that weren't flooded were awesome, of course. For one thing, I felt good not being slowed down by water! But also, the course was flat and the weather was cool. I divided the run into 6 mile sections in my brain, and tried to focus on keeping each mile below 8:10 pace.
The road was great when it was not flooded!
I thought it possible that at one point I would crumble and start to slow. But I didn't. I kept thinking, NOT THIS MILE. This mile I am still strong. And I stayed that way! I passed three women who I knew were contenders--women I had cyber-stalked before the race and who I knew would be women I'd have to really race. I could do this. How many women were still ahead of me?
The last mile seemed to last forever. I had slowed a bit, but not much, and I just wanted to see that finish line so so so badly! I could hear the announcer--I knew I was close, and I knew that I was very close to hitting my goal time--a 3:45.
And I did it! Over course, I'm not looking particularly glamorous in this photo, but it does show my triumph! The fastest IM marathon I had run to that point had been 4:01. This was a 3:40--and it had included taking a shit and the flooding! I couldn't believe it!
Two steps after this picture was taken I suddenly felt violently ill and dry heaved on the spot. The I dry heaved again. Then a volunteer led me to a trash can and I booted big time.
Still, I was smiling as I booted.
After throwing up I hobbled over to have my picture taken:
I found Andy and he was happy for me. The thing is--I know that my IM racing is mine. People are happy for me when I do well, but it's sort of an abstraction for most people I think. Oh good ! You did well! Then they move on. (I'm not resentful about this! Really! It's the way we are as humans. You know? This is MY thing--etc). Anyway, Andy hugged me and you know? I KNEW he was genuinely, truly, bottom of his heart so happy for me. Do you know how good that feels? He knew how much it meant to me, and he felt happiness for me. It was pretty cool. He's a very good egg. Gratitude.
I knew I had finished pretty high up in my age group given the number of women I had passed. But I didn't know if I had finished top two. When I finished the results read I was first, but because of the time trial start, it was impossible to know whether I was actually first or not. Later on, I learned I was second. I had finished ahead of all of the women I had deemed a threat, but another woman had entered the race at the last minute--and so she wasn't on my radar. Because she entered so late they gave her a number in the 2000s, even though our age group was in the 800s. Because of the TT start, she finished well after me, but her overall time was much faster than mine. Still, I beat her in the marathon. :) I still can't believe it. I really can't. No more dread. That hard work really did result in a great performance for me. I did kick ass!
This is not a great picture, but you can see here my competitors, all of whom, except for the winner, Hilary, I had identified and cyber-stalked before the race. From the left, Merle, me, Hilary (the winner) and Florence. Missing is Kim Ashworth, a FB friend, fellow New Englander and killer runner who was also most definitely a woman I knew would be a contender! Kim kicked ass, too, obviously!
The end.Thanks for reading!