Friday, August 21, 2015

Timberman 2015: Run to the Finish (Part III)

(Missed reading about the swim and bike legs? Never fear, you can read it all here: Part I Swim and Part II Bike.)

Helmet off. Bike shoes off. Sneakers on. Grab that race belt and your headband, skip the hat, it’s too hot. Grab your Gu. All three are there? Okay, go! Go! Go!—wait!

I turned around looked longingly back at the row where my bike was racked . . . with my running watch still attached to the handlebars.

Feeling good, giving smiles.
Just go.

No! You need it!

You don’t need it, you know how to run. You’re wasting time dilly-dallying around in here. Just go!

No but your splits! How will you know if you’re controlling your pace?

You can use the race clocks.

But what if there aren’t any on the course? Going back will only take a second.

And really, what was another thirty seconds in the scheme of things? I hurried back to my bike and retrieved the watch.

Now I was ready to go. I started running again . . . only to realize that I didn’t know where I was going. I had been heading toward the Bike Out area, but that was the same as the Bike In area, so surely they wouldn’t have runners and cyclists all trying to go in and out of the same spot. . . .

“Excuse me, do you know where the Run Out is?”

The girl racking her bike looked up and glared at me.

“Sorry.” I tried to smile. “But do you know where it is?”

She gave me an exasperated look and pointed. I gave her a big, relieved smile.


Finally, the run had begun.

On my way out of the transition area and into the first mile, I saw R___—my wonderful fiancĂ© who rode in a cramped SUV for six hours and slept on a pull-out couch with me just to stand on that hot, muggy sideline for six hours in order to cheer me on.

“Go Allison!” he shouted. “This is where you shine! Go get it!”

That’s right, I thought, smiling and blowing him a kiss. This is where I shine. Time to get to work.

Now, maybe it was his cheering, or how fast I spun my legs on the bike, or the caffeine in the SHOT Bloks, or maybe I just started my watch late, but straightaway, my first mile clocked in at 6:15.

First lap "finish" . . . not a happy camper.
Whoa, whoa, I told my legs. Slooooow down. I know you feel good right now, in fact you feel like you’re floating, but you have twelve more miles to go. Come mile 10, it’s not going to feel this nice anymore. Relax.

My legs didn’t listen. Mile two was sub-six.

SLOW DOWN, I told my legs. RELAX. This is not sustainable. You wouldn’t even do this in a real half marathon, never mind after swimming 1.2 miles and biking 56. You are going to crash if you keep this up, and it is going to hurt.

With a mantra of “relax relax relax relax” I managed to get into the 7s for the next several miles. Mentally, this put me a bit more at ease, although I was still wary of what was ahead. The course consisted of two identical out-and-back laps, with the first lap running straight by the finish line. The sun was beating down, and people were running through the finish line to booming cheers . . . and I had to turn around and start the trek back out. There were still seven miles to go. And of course, this was when my legs started to protest.

I saw R___ again on my way back out onto the course, and I knew I’d see him one last time on the way to the finish. I really wanted to look strong for that.

Keep running.

At this point, things were starting to disintegrate. I could feel my body temperature rising, and apart from dousing myself with lukewarm water at each aid station, I could not figure out what else to do to get cool.

Meanwhile, I was starting to feel that internal imploding sensation that comes from your cells sucking out every last bit of energy they can. I’d eaten my first Gu at mile five, so I held out until mile nine for the second one, sucking it bit by bit until I could reach the next water station to wash it down. I realized too late that I’d forgotten to alternate water and Gatorade—my mouth was already so sweet from all the Gu—so I started grabbing Gatorade when I saw it, but now my stomach was sloshing, and I could still feel my body giving up on me.

You just have to keep running, I told my legs. That was Goal #2 for this race. DO NOT WALK, even if you feel yourself slowing down. It’s all mentalyou know this. This is no harder than the last six miles of a marathon, and you’ve done those plenty of times. Suck it up. You can do this.

And then I heard it: "Ice!" They were handing out ice in little McDonalds cups at one of the aid stations. I tucked one giant cube into my cheek and, after tossing my last Gu onto the side of the course, took as many cubes into my palms as I could hold.

The turn toward the finish. I can see it!
Cool down, I ordered my body. Relax. Smile at the kid with the hose so she sprays you. Give a thumbs up to the little boy with the squirt gun. That’s right. Keep running.

Despite the way my body felt, despite that I could feel my stride getting progressively shorter and flatter and that I was pretty sure my left pinky toenail was peeling off, my pace wasn’t suffering as much as I’d expected. When mile twelve clocked in at 7:30, I decided to go for it. I had no intention of crossing the finish line “with gas in the tank,” and while I was pretty sure I was running on fumes, those fumes ought to be good for something.

Time to go, I told my legs. Let’s finish strong. I took about three quick, long strides when I suddenly felt my left hamstring tighten.  No, I thought. No! Come on legs. You never cramp. What are you doing? Then my calf muscle joined in, and now the entire back of my left leg felt like it was shrinking into itself.

Okay, I thought. Okay, okay. I won’t do that. I eased back on the throttle and let my feet go back to the tip-toe trot that they had been doing. Unfortunately, now my left leg felt like a bowstring ready to snap, so even that trot wasn't going to work. I tried to extend the leg and land on my heel to stretch it out, but that only made things worse, so I shortened my stride even more and began the familiar chant: don’t walk, don’t walk, don’twalkdon’twalkdon’twalk.

Finally, I saw R___’s red shirt in the distance.

“You look great!” he shouted as I wobbled past. “You’re such an inspiration!”

“She’s fast,” I heard the woman next to him say.

And those words, the kind words of a stranger, they did it. I knew I’d make it to the finish line. And I wouldn’t walk.
So happy with my new bling.

Down the hill, over the grass. No one in front of me, and I wasn’t going to let anyone behind me catch up. I swung my arms like my coach always told me to do when my legs were giving up. I leaned forward, hobble-stepping, and zeroed in on the finish line.

Smile for the camera.

And then it was over. My body slowed down, arms falling heavy, and the whole world tilted as I tried to get my legs back under me.

The medal they hung around my neck was weighty, substantial, the way it ought to be.

I didn’t know it yet, but I’d smashed my third and final goal. Not only had I finished in under 6:30, I’d finished well under 6 hours. Five hours, forty-three minutes, and twenty-five seconds, to be exact. And I was elated.

First races are the best.

Time Pace AG Place (F25-29) Gender Place (F) Overall Place
Swim 34:34 1:47/100m 20 / 79 106 / 624 431 / 1901
Bike 3:27:48 16.17mi/h 48 / 79 354 / 624 1352 / 1901
Run 1:33:56 7:10/mi 20 / 79 109 / 624 605 / 1901
Overall 5:43:25 N/A 20 / 79 109 / 624 605 / 1901


Dad said...

You should have been a writer.

You kept me intrigued all the way through to the end!!


Nicole said...

Love how you really detailed the run. By the time I get around to writing about it, I always forget! Half ironmans make my standard distance races seem like child's play!