In the days leading up to the Ironman, I had to explain several times to my 10-year-old why I was not going to win the race, why I was not going to attempt to win the race, and why I was not really considering it a "race" at all, but more of a challenge to be overcome. But Michael persisted. Would I at least try to win? For him? How could I be sure I wouldn't win? What would happen if I did win?
I told him that if I did win, it would probably be national news and that the headlines would say, "Overweight 40-year-old mother of two defeats world's most elite triathletes." (My husband agreed that it would be national news but said the headline would more likely be, "2,000 triathletes at front of race die in asteroid impact.")
I don't think Michael was ever fully convinced. Some part of his mind was holding out hope that I could defy all the odds and be not just an Ironman, but the Ironman champion. It was a sweet realization for me as a mother that that was his view of me, and I loved it when he came up with the phrase, "Mim for the win!" (Our pet names for each other are Mik and Mim.)
Ironman morning arrived. It was surreal, like the morning of my college graduation/moving/wedding day (yes, and in the space of about 12 hours), when I was thinking, "Is this really the day I'm going to do all that?"
My parents had had the kids spend the night with them at their hotel, so my husband and I didn't have to worry about anything but our assigned roles: M.H.'s was to handle everything, pack everything, carry everything, remember everything, know the way to the race, find a place to park, get me anything I needed, encourage me without being annoying, and support me in any way he could think of.
Mine was to try to eat a big breakfast.
Now, I was proud of myself for how deliberately focused and calm I was keeping my mind, but my stomach wasn't buying it for a minute. It knew something was up and was doing flips. But I ate well. At some point in my multiyear Ironman obsession, I had read about a study that said the athletes who ate the most calories at breakfast ran the fastest marathons, and I was clinging to any advantage I could give myself.
We got to the race site around 5 a.m., but with all the transition bags already taken care of, there was nothing much left to do. I just filled up my aerobar water bottles, got my bike tires inflated, and used the bathroom about 15 times. (My stomach was definitely on to me.) My husband helped me squeeze into my wetsuit, and we went over to get a good spot to watch the pro start. I had never seen an Ironman in person and really didn't want to miss any part of the experience!
My parents and kids showed up a few minutes later. We got some hugs, and some photos, and then it was time for me to head down to the beach (just typing that made my stomach go on red alert again). M.H. was still playing his part and stayed with me all the way to the swim entrance. I should mention that he did a great job getting me to the starting line prepared and sane and in one piece. He never complained a peep all day, from the moment the alarm went off at 4 a.m. until 2 a.m. after the race, when I asked him if he'd get up and untuck the sheets because they were hurting my feet.
|Dexter is looking at the other camera, and|
Michael is still all "Mim for the win!"
The clock turned over to 7:00:00, the cannon went off, and I watched in awe as the mass of bodies went flying into the water. I was near the back, heading down slowly, hoping that things might thin out a bit before it was my turn to get going. I walked into waist-deep water, splashed my face a couple of times, and went for it. Wow! I thought. This is it! I'm swimming in the Ironman! Then all of the sudden, I wasn't. That mass of bodies was in the way, and I was treading water in the Ironman.
People were everywhere. No one could do anything. My only thought was to stay away from breaststrokers and other flailing feet. I made a game of looking for an open area, darting for it, swimming until I ran into feet again, then sighting the next open area. I probably should have started more toward the middle of the pack, because I was passing everybody. With all the arms in the air at once, it was no use trying to see the buoys. I figured that if there were people to the right, left, front, and back of me, all swimming in more or less the same direction, then I couldn't be too far off course.
It was like that all the way to the first turnaround, where approximately all 2,500 athletes arrived at the exact same point at the exact same time. Everyone went vertical in the water and couldn't move. People were yelling angrily. Some jerk right in front of me decided to fight off the crowd by repeatedly kicking out, hard, obviously with the intent to hurt someone. He got me in the palm of my hand so hard that it stung for the rest of the swim (but, hey, at least he didn't get my nose). I was briefly annoyed. That was stupid and selfish, and frankly useless, because it wasn't the people behind him who were his problem. I can't imagine jeopardizing someone else's whole day, less than 30 minutes in, over a situation none of us had any control over.
Somehow we moved around the turn, and I found the way back to the beach a bit easier, crowd-wise. I came out of the first loop in 37 minutes and was thrilled with a capital R (pronounced thuh-Rilled!!) to be ahead of my best-case-scenario pace, feeling great, and having finally left most of the slower swimmers behind me.
I decided to swim the second loop smarter and swung way to the outside of the pack. I didn't have anyone swimming to my right any more, but I could see the buoys, I could swim normally, and I was having so much fun! In all the worry about the cold water, I never imagined that the real challenge would be finding some of it to swim in. My second loop was also 37 minutes, so I paced it perfectly and was exactly where I wanted to be.