My Ironman happened @mile 52.9, I am reflecting back on the awesomeness of it all.
I landed. I landed in Phoenix Arizona on November 13th, 2012 looking deeply into the eyes of Camelback Mountain. Oh my dear beloved desert, how I have missed you every single day for three years. In my heart, I was coming back home to this place I love with all I’ve got.
Upon landing, I was not aware that this was going to be the beginning of a new “phase/beginning” of my life. Truly. This is how I feel today reflecting on these amazing events.
As I mentioned in my pre-race blog, I believe very strongly that a spiritual event/commitment like an Ironman race is not based on being fit. In fact, it has little to do with fitness. It is all about believing. I have experienced and journeyed through events, this way all of my life and it is what I call: LIVING! Sometimes it is fun. Sometimes it is sad. Sometimes it is so intense that you can’t breathe. Living. In the moment. That’s what I do best.
As I was driving down to Tempe to get my athlete bag and race gear, I started feeling awfully strange. What was going on? Not sure. I parked. Walked down to a very familiar race site that I have seen so many times and a lake I have tasted so many times. I sign the papers, get my envelope and the wonderful volunteer who puts my bracelet on asked: are you excited? Why are you doing this? Is this your first? …and there I feel it. I say to her that I chose this as a turning 40 present for myself. Then I see my kids in my heart as as I spoke, every single moment of the year flashed before my eyes in a matter of seconds. She is very touched. She is almost crying seeing me losing it… and I need a hug. Big time! Thank you to my dear friend Sheila who showed up precisely at that moment in the merchandise tent where I could no longer hold my tears back and to the gentleman next to me happy to see that he was not the only one feeling that way!
This was so much more that a triathlon. It is like childbirth. You don’t get it until you go through it.
November 18th, 2012. Race Day.
I woke up at 3am that morning eating a complete breakfast and gathered my last items spread over the home of my Sherpa – The best Sherpa one can hope for. I had turned the place into WTC / Ironman Headquarters and criticized your “Lego” bike rack. Thank you Mark. I will forever be thankful.
I drove with dear friends to Tempe and everything was as smooth and perfect as could be. The transition. The walk all alone alongside the river wetsuit in hand. The power of emotions. It was dark. I could feel the frenzy behind me. People laughing. Crying. Running. Stressing. I was raw and that morning, I would have given anything to hold my children. Anything.
In the water standing on the ledge, the National Anthem starts and I suddenly feel like a celebrity. So many cameras/people taking pictures of complete strangers to captured the moment. The overwhelmability factor of “the beginning”.
The gun. Off I go. Then I am done – 2.89 miles (really? boo me) after smiling to volunteers in kayaks and telling them I was doing an Ironman. I swam an Ironman. Me. Pffff who would have thunk it. I did and enjoyed every minute of it except the 8 leg cramps I had from hypothermia. We all had them along with blue lips and a feeling like a seriously frozen popsicle due to 60 degree water.
Cluster! So many people. Uneventful. I do my thing. Run in to transition to hear a snap: the left arm of my sunglasses snap in half. I grab the piece, stuff it in my bra top and my aero helmet help the glasses in place for the ride. I figured I was going to be able to find tape at T2.
What a BEAUTIFUL DAY. I had disposable arm warmers (long black socks from WalMart 🙂 stylishly cut with thumbholes and everything. It took one full loop of the bike to warm up. My bones were cold.
At mile 50 on the bike, it happened. My Ironman happened.
I thought that my sunglasses were dirty. I could not see well, so I took a moment to remove my sunglasses to realize that my left eye sight was completely GONE. 14 years ago, I lost my left eye to 16 holes in my retina. My eye has since been seeing lights and gave me some depth/perception. My eye degenerated very quickly due to all of the surgery I received years ago, therefore I had a cataract surgery after my first Boston Marathon 3 years ago. From mile 52.9 until about mile 62, my mind was 100% focused on the disappointment and little on the race. I was very emotional thinking I would not be able to finish the race as the retina is a medical emergency. I could see myself on a hospital bed in Scottsdale missing this great adventure / week ahead. Then I started thinking clearly with a cold head: this is not the retina. It feels like a 100% opaque cataract issue again except I see black. This is not the retina. I decided it was a eye surface issue. It was painfully burning. I still had 50 something miles to go. I had to significantly reduce the 19-20 mph maintained to a 16-18 as I could not see and the new goal of the bike went from doing it as fast as I could to finish the bike leg as safely as possible without crashing. As the course was loops, I had to focus on hearing wheels of those who passed me (pros/faster riders).
I finished the bike in 6:30. Way slower than planned but you know what? My goal was to become an Ironman. So I focused on that. I ran into T2 and started crying and being silly, talking way too fast when 2 volunteers held me and Kelly (I love you Kelly) told me I am in one piece. Strong. I will do this. I asked another volunteer to go get my T1 bag as I had a eye contact spare set. Deep down, I knew it was not my contact. Kelly helped me get prepped for the run. Took my shoes off (thank goodness she did not know how many times I peed on the bike to keep track of hydration – I am a desert girl at heart, I know how to deal with the conditions). Then Kelly looked at me as I took my contact out, took her radio and called in 2 doctors to meet me in the medical tent. She tells me: Nancy, your eye is completely grey. She was so calm. My thoughts were racing as I have such deep knowledge of the eye due to my medical history. I am ready to run after 15 minutes, but they take me into the medical tent. The doctors have me take my contact out. We take time. We do an eye wash and I take time for peace of mind. I asked a gazillion questions. Then we do another wash. It was painful and my vision was ZERO. They then say to me: there will be no marathon for you!
Good luck with that one. I knew it was not the retina. I made a clear choice to keep on going. The situation could wait 4 hours. Off I go!
Oh and Kelly, thank you for taping my sunglasses!
So many things had just happened. I was a good hour behind. Behind what exactly? Nothing at all. I was right on time! MY time. MY day! There were so many supporters for me on the run. First and foremost, my family from Canada. It was the most amazing experience to have them there, It would have not been the same without them. Then, Team Anthem. That outfit was the ticket. I became a triathlete with Team Anthem. I became an Ironman wearing the colors. Hundreds of friends/Ironfans. I felt like a rock star. The marathon went by like a flash. 4:10. Not the fastest but considering I could not see a thing in the dark, I will take that. I could have kept on running forever. I was so mentally strong and ready for this. Not once did I ever think: 10 more miles, one more loop. I did not count once. NOT once.
Then, I hear it all. The music. Mike Reilly. I am done and I don’t want it ever end. Ever. In many ways, it will never be.
I took the time to strategically think about speeding up to be alone in the chute. I was not going to share that glorious moment. I speed up the hill, see Mike and hear him say my name and then I turn to take over the finish chute, see the line and hear the screaming spectators. I could see them all and I could not see anything at the same time. It is unexplainable. This moment and the emotions are mine forever. No one will ever take that away from me. Ever. I had enough left in the tank to jump at the finish line. I was laughing. So happy!
An ophthalmologist was in the medical tent for me. It took a week to get my vision back. Antibiotics and creams returned my cornea to a normal state. It was not pretty but I am so thankful. My eye just wanted a piece of my Ironman. Well, you got it buddy. We are an Ironman!
This will forever by my very first Ironman. This will forever be PERFECT in so many ways in my head and heart. No one can ever take that away from me. I will forever be the one who believed I could. Who knew. Who let nothing get in the way of a goal despite so many distractions.
Was it my one and only? Nha… Just like childbirth, I’ll do it all over again!
Arizona is not where I belong anymore. I was traveling into the past where I actually found my future in my thoughts along the way. Thank you. Thankful.