The alarm went off at 4:00 and surprisingly I was kind of asleep. I thought for sure I wouldn’t sleep a wink last night with how nervous I was, but it wasn’t that bad. I got right up and started getting ready. We left the hotel by 4:45 and headed for CDA. I was starting to get nervous but tried to just focus on drinking my bottle of Infinit and eating my peanut butter sandwich. We got to CDA in record time (it’s amazing how few cars there are on the road at that time of the morning) and headed into transition. Walking over to transition I had one second where I thought I might throw up because I was so nervous, but it passed quickly. I got my bike all set up, aired up my tires, and went off to find where to drop my special needs bags. I got my bags all set and got body marked – number 378 was all set! I headed back into transition to wait in the insanely long line for the bathroom and got into my wetsuit. It was about 6:25 by the time I headed to the beach to get into place for the swim start and I was starting to get very nervous!
The new swim start this year had me on edge because I just didn’t know what to expect. They were starting everyone in a slow continuous group based on estimated finishing time for the swim. They had a 1:15 – 1:30 group and then a 1:30 – 1:45 group. I was expecting to swim 1:30…do I line up with the faster group or the slower group? At the athlete briefing the race directors exact words were “Line up with the slower group or you will get crushed.” Well that didn’t make me feel any less nervous about the swim. I decided to live dangerously and lined up with the 1:15 – 1:30 group but stayed all the way towards the back. The canon went off at 6:35 and people started going into the water. It took about 10 minutes for my group to get under the starting arch and then my timing chip beeped and I was OFFICIALLY DOING AN IRONMAN!!! As soon as I got into the water my nerves went away and I started to feel calm. The drag of that many people swimming in the same direction was amazing, it seemed like in an instant I was at the first buoy. I looked down at my watch to see how I was doing and realized my GPS wasn’t turned on…crap! I had turned my watch on earlier that morning to see what time it was and in my haste I told it I was inside so it didn’t need to sync to the satellites. I had forgotten to reset it. Ok time to think quick on my feet…what’s my game plan? I decided to restart it and hope it would find the satellites while I was swimming. I wouldn’t know my exact swim time or how far total distance I ended up swimming but since I knew what time I got in the water I decided that was worth it to not to have to worry about this for the next 2.4 miles of swimming. It didn’t take as long for it to find the satellite as I thought it would given I was swimming…problem solved! The swim wasn’t as brutal as I had been expecting though I did take a few good strokes to the head…thankfully I had followed Tristen’s advice and had my goggles on under my top cap (I had 2 on) so they didn’t move. At one point I was swimming along with the sun shining on my head when all of a sudden the sun disappeared. “Here it comes” I thought and I braced myself to get pummeled. Sure enough, within a second I felt someone try to karate chop me across my back mid stroke…Ouch! Nothing else eventful happened the first lap and then we were out of the water, running across the beach, and starting our second lap. It was a lot less congested this lap so I swam closer to the buoys. I would frequently swim up on someone and knew if I saw someone with booties on to be cautious. I’m not judging everyone who was wearing booties, but I definitely noticed an increased likelihood of a crazy kicking pattern (or really lack of a kicking pattern) when someone was wearing booties. After getting kicked a few times attempting to go around those people, I changed my strategy. When I would swim up on someone with booties, I would start breast stroking to try and get a better idea of what the swimmer was doing. Do I go around on one side or the other? Do I hang back a few seconds? This seemed to work well and I avoided getting kicked. All of a sudden we were coming out of the water and running onto the beach. As I was starting to get my arms out of my wetsuit I heard Mike Reilly over the microphone say “Sara Beck is coming out of the water”. This was so exciting! Not only did Mike Reilly know I was here and how pronounce my name, but my timing chip was working…Win, Win! Only 112 mile bike and a marathon and I would hear him say my name again!
Coming out of the water there were wetsuit strippers (wetsuit peelers as they were calling them at this race, but to the rest of us, they will always be wetsuit strippers). I had never done a race with wetsuit strippers, but the gist of it is you get your wetsuit down to your hips with your arms out, lay down on the ground in front of the stripper and they pull as hard as they can and poof…you are out of your wetsuit. I love this! Getting out of a wetsuit is one of the worst parts of a triathlon and I’ve had a few close calls where I almost fell into my own bike trying to get mine off (not smooth or cute). I grabbed my wetsuit and my bike bag and ran into the women’s changing tent. What a cluster! There were women EVERYWHERE, there were no chairs left and I wasn’t actually changing, so I just took a seat in the grass and started getting myself organized. A few minutes later a chair opened up and I grabbed it and finished getting myself ready for the bike. I won’t go into the gruesome horrors that I saw in that changing tent, but let me sum it up with this…there are no words. Triathletes aren’t a bashful group, I mean we all pee in our wetsuits during the swim and then make jokes about it (everyone does it and if they don’t then they are just wasting valuable time later on stopping to pee) but my goodness…I will never be the same. I came out of the change tent, had a lovely volunteer slather me up with sunscreen (she was also a masseuse so that was the most relaxing sunscreen application ever), grabbed my bike and headed out.
It was sunny but still a bit cool and I was wet from the swim so I was glad I had on my ghetto arm warmers. Justin learned about this last year and they are amazing! Since you know you will only be wearing your arm warmers until you get warm and then don’t want to carry them around the rest of the ride, these can be thrown away. Get a pair of tube socks and cut out the toes and presto, ghetto arm warmers. I also was wearing my sun sleeves (real arm warmers that are meant for warmer weather that provide sun protection as well as are cooling when you get them wet) under my ghetto arm warmers so I was ready for anything. The first 7 miles of the bike you go along the lake and up a big hill, then you turn around and go back to town. I couldn’t really feel my toes the first 15 miles or so, but aside from that I was feeling good. After you go thru town, the course goes out along a highway and has some decent climbs up to the turn around point which is about 20 miles out. My plan had been to eat only the food and drink on my bike and grab nothing from the aid stations which were every 10 miles but water. However, the aid station volunteers seemed almost sad when you didn’t need anything so I started to take a banana or a bonk breaker here or there.
As I was headed up the first large climb, Justin came descending on the opposite side of the road – he was having a great race. He shouted at me “Go Sara. Ride that F’ing bike!” The people around me thought he was nuts, but this will be my favorite quote of the entire race. We’re just that kind of couple.
Every 30 miles I stopped at the aid station, got off my bike to go to the bathroom, stretch a bit, and mix a new bottle of Infinit. These are the moments I will remember from this race the most. It’s amazing how nice every single volunteer was and how many nice racers I met standing in line for the bathroom. I even had one volunteer run up to me while I was in line for the bathroom and offer me a new water bottle and it was ice cold (a very happy sight at mile 90). I made some friends with some people who were riding about my same pace and we kept jockeying back and forth. I even met some people from Denver – go Rocky Mountain Tri Club! The only really scary part was this 1 mile no pass zone towards the end of the descent. All I heard behind me was a guy screaming “left, left, left” and then the sound of squealing race wheels. Luckily the people behind me stopped in time and no one was hit by the guy flying down the hill and passing in the no pass zone – I only have 1 word for that guy: karma. The first lap flew by and I was averaging about a 16 mile per hour pace. Going through town starting the second lap I spotted Justin’s mom and step dad thanks to their neon shirts that could see from a mile
I got a few “Go TriBella” cheers thanks to my super cute kit. I headed back up to start the second 14 mile section by the lake. At the turnaround were the special needs bags for the bike. I stopped, grabbed my bag, reloaded my food, applied more sunscreen, and had a nice chat with the volunteer who held my bike for me while I did all of this. His son went to CU so we shared a “Go Buffs!” and I was off again.
Back through town and on to the big climbs. I swear those climbs got so much bigger the second time. It was starting to get warmer and seeing everyone bombing down the other side of the road knowing they were almost done with the bike was disheartening. I remembered Justin telling me that there would be times during the race that really weren’t that fun and this was one of those times. I could have lived without miles 75-90 but I remembered my favorite Ironman motto “The only thing you can control is your attitude. Take care of it and it will take care of you.” I tried to encourage those around me and just stay positive that at mile 94 I was going to hit the turn around and fly back down hill to town. I saw Justin flying downhill and he was having a great race and was all smiles (must be nice to be such a fast biker!) The 90 mile aid station was a welcome sight and they encouraged us all “only 4 miles to the turn around”. I hit the turn around and was so excited! I was going to make the bike cut off (with well over an hour to spare). Not to mention this is the furthest I’ve ever ridden…by 12 miles! It was sad on the ride down the hill because you see the Ironman trucks going up the hill to pull the people off the course who don’t make it to the turn around by 4:30. They are like the grim reaper. And then behind them you see people still working hard to make the cut off and you start doing the math in your head “they probably have 7 more miles to go…I hope they make it!” The last climb on the way back to town is a doozy, it’s about a mile long and hits right at 100 miles…you know, because that’s necessary. I was biking next to a guy who kept saying “this has got to be the top, right?” I have never been so happy to crest a hill as I was on that one. As much as I thought Tristen was the devil for making me climb for the last 3 months in my big ring ALL THE TIME, it made a huge difference. I was so glad to be reunited with my small ring on those hills! I got back to town and handed my bike to a volunteer. “Take good care of her please, she did good today!” I told him as I said goodbye to my trusty partner Belinda.
I got my run bag and made a quick stop at the porta potties. Note to self: these are the last clean porta potties you will see for the rest of the day. If you have to go, do it now, don’t wait for the run or it will be ugly. I made my way to the change tent and it was a lot less traumatic this time. There weren’t that many people in there and I had the nicest volunteer helping me. I changed into my compression socks (not an easy task) while I was doing that I had taken off my timing chip. The volunteer was clutching it the entire time and as soon as I got my socks all the way on she handed my chip back to me and said “I will feel a lot better if you put this back on.” I had a change of clothes in my bag in case I was miserable in my kit, but I was so comfy I decided to keep it on. And let’s not lie, it’s so cute and I’m vain…I wanted a good finisher pic because I was only 26.2 miles away from becoming an Ironman! I have never been so happy to run a marathon in my entire life! My knees had been hurting at the end of the bike so I was slightly concerned about the run, but knowing that I had over 7 and a half hours to walk this entire marathon if I needed to was comforting…I was going to finish…this was happening! As soon as I started running, I felt in my zone. No concern about my knees. I saw Jean and Greg as I headed out to the run and they snapped this great photo:
I right away started my run/walk strategy. I ran to the first aid station, walked as I grabbed some water, and then took back up running. I was keeping a decent pace the first few miles. It’s easy to do when you are running through town and everyone is so encouraging. The race bibs had names on them so I got a lot of cheers. There was a girl with a sign that said “Finishing is the only F’ing option” and it couldn’t be more true. My other personal favorite spectator was a guy with a sign that said “Go fast or I take off clothing” (or something to that effect). When I saw him at the beginning of the bike he was wearing a dress shirt, tie, and blazer. By the time I got to the run he was down to a speedo. It was quite entertaining. I saw Justin about 6 miles into my run and he was finishing his second lap. He had changed into running clothes by this point and I saw a guy in the distance with a Colfax marathon shirt from this year and I thought “oh nice, someone from Denver.” It wasn’t until he got close that it finally registered that wasn’t just someone from Denver, it was Justin! He was having a smoking race and told me he’d wait for me (at the finish).
Once you head out of town, it gets a bit tougher. There is a large hill you have to go up. I told myself I could walk this, I had slowed to such a slow pace it didn’t make much sense to keep struggling to run (if you can call it that). I turned and I was coming back down the hill and I got a few comments from the people I was passing about my pace (I guess all those hill repeats were paying off). I ran with an inspiring woman who was racing for the Wounded Warrior foundation and she encouraged me on for a mile. She was too speedy for me and I still had a long way to go so I dropped back. I stuck with my strategy of eating gels every 3 miles, drinking water at every aid station, and grabbing sponges…oh how I love the sponges! I was stuffing sponges and ice down my shirt like there was no tomorrow…this sport is so glamorous. Finally I was starting my second loop which is probably the longest mile of the entire run. The run course gets broken up into 2 lanes, one pointing to the finish and one for the second lap. You see the spring in everyone’s step who is heading towards the finish and you hear the announcer calling out that they are an Ironman at the finish and you pass by all of that knowing you have 13 more miles until you get to experience that. Luckily there were lots of spectators at that point to cheer you on. I put down some good mile splits running through town (between 9:30 and 10:15 minute miles) thanks to the encouragement of the crowd. Going through the special needs bag area during the run, I had the volunteer captain announce over the loud speaker I had the “best outfit of the day”…thanks TriBella! At the turn around to start the second lap I saw Jean and Greg again. I asked them how Justin was doing, I knew he’d finished but he wasn’t with them so I was concerned he might be in the medical tent. They assured me he was fine and they’d all see me at the finish.
I headed back out of town and at this point my nutrition plan was out the window. I couldn’t stand the thought of eating one more thing I had to squeeze into my mouth. At the aid stations I started eating the pretzels and drinking the chicken broth. Let me explain more about the aid stations. They literally have a buffet of seemingly random food and drink that taste like the most amazing thing you’ve ever eaten 130 miles into an Ironman. They have water, Ironman Perform (basically gatorade), flat coke (tastes so good on an upset stomach), pretzels, potato chips, cookies, bonk breakers, gels, and chicken broth. The broth isn’t at every aid station, but those that do have it, it’s nice and warm and they give it to you in a cup so you just drink it like water. It’s something about how salty it is that it tastes AMAZING! I had heard about the broth before but it wasn’t really part of my nutrition strategy (I told myself I would drink the coke but would wait until the second lap to start drinking it because once you start your energy peeks and crashes so quickly that you have to keep drinking it until the end). Around mile 14 a volunteer at an aid station said “do you want any broth?” I thought, Why not, I’m doing an Ironman and it’s all part of the experience. That cup of broth was the most delicious thing I’ve ever had. I couldn’t wait to get to the next aid station for more…weird I know, but I was 13 hours into this thing.
Coming up to the big hill again I saw Julie from Denver walking so I stopped to walk with her. At this point I had blisters under basically all of my toes and it was getting to be quite painful, with each step I could feel them getting bigger. Julie and I chatted and were having a fun time at the aid stations, we were like 2 kids in a candy store. “Do you want cookies?” Sure I want cookies! “Do you want some cola?” Sure I’ll take some! I was basically getting my registration money’s worth one bite of food at a time on that run course. When we got to the turnaround at the top of the hill we met up with some other guys from Denver and heard a crazy story about Frank who got run off the road 30 miles into the bike and went over the guardrail. He was scrapped up and sore but his bike took the worst of it. He had a hole in his wheel and his back brake wasn’t working. With the help of the medics who happened to be right there when this whole thing happened and some passerby who gave him his tube from his bike, he was able to get his bike back into semi working condition (without a back brake) and continue on the rest of the ride – truly amazing! To see him running along encouraging everyone else really put my blisters in perspective, it was time to put on my big girl panties and finish this thing. Frank, Jay, and I started jogging back to town occasionally stopping to take walk breaks. All of a sudden a car comes up the road and Justin’s coach Michelle is yelling out the window “Great job Sara! Keep it up!” Thank goodness I was running when she saw me! The car turned around and Michelle and her partner in crime Sonja (they both crushed this race last year and qualified for Kona and came back this year to support the athletes they coach who were racing) were encouraging me out the window while driving about 6 miles an hour. They were cracking me up. Michelle told me I was doing great and asked me if I had heard how Justin did. I told her I knew he had finished but didn’t know his time. She told me it was 11 hours and 13 minutes…he took almost 2 hours off his PR from last year! I was so proud of him! She then told me she was texting him right now that I was almost finished. Sonja told me “you can still talk which means you can still run…keep going!” Their encouragement meant a lot in those last final miles.
The marathon in an Ironman is basically a war of attrition. It’s not if you will slow down, you will. It’s at what mile it will happen and how bad it will be. I saw people who were walking the entire marathon (including Fireman Rob who walks the entire marathon in full firefighter equipment – so inspiring and a really nice guy!). I saw a guy with a prosthetic leg who when I encouraged him to start running again he jokingly said “You’re right, I’m probably not the only person out here suffering”. I saw a girl bent over the side of the run course throwing up (I was relieved to see she did end up finishing before the cutoff time). I saw a girl literally crying with every painful step she took. It was brutal. This is what the Ironman is all about, continuing on when things get tough, just like life.
Frank, Jay, and I continued to make our way towards the finish. Coming back through the neighborhoods on the outskirts of town is so fun. There were drunk people everywhere, cheering, dancing in the street, and the best was the signs. My particular favorites were “Chuck Norris never did an Ironman”, “Smile if you aren’t wearing underwear”, and “Nice legs” to which I replied “Thanks, sometimes I workout”. It was a lot of fun. It was starting to get dark as we made our way to the final aid station. Frank turned back to wait for another friend that he was going to finish with (seriously, after a bike crash and everything else he was still encouraging people literally to the final mile). That final aid station will be one of my favorite memories of this race. Jay and I were on the hunt for sponges at this aid station, not to cool off this time, but to wipe our faces off with all the salt that had accumulated—we needed to look nice for those finisher pictures! Then all of a sudden there it was, the final turn and you come down onto Sherman Street and you can see the finisher shoot. I slowed down to really take this all in, I was finishing an Ironman! 3 short years after my first triathlon and buying my first bike – I was becoming an Ironman! I heard “Sara” chants on my left side and saw Justin, Jean, and Greg going crazy with excitement! I saw the photographer and made sure to do my hands clasped to the one side in my victory move!
I crossed the finish line to hear the words I had thought about every day for the past 8 months “Sara Beck – YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!!!” My official finish time was 14:38:19! I was so happy to be at the finish line and know what this feeling felt like but surprisingly I didn’t cry. Don’t get me wrong, I was so excited but I was too tired to be really emotional (however just writing this now makes me tear up!).
As soon as you cross the finish line, you get a volunteer who gives you your medal and their job is basically to help guide you thru the finishing area and determine if you need medical attention. I got my medal, my finishers t-shirt, a hat, and made my way to take my finisher’s photo. You can tell how excited I am (that’s not sunburn, that’s hours of hard work!):
The volunteer determined I didn’t need medical attention and I was allowed to walk on my own. I grabbed a piece of pizza – finally something that you couldn’t squeeze into your mouth! I made my way to find Justin, Jean, and Greg and finally change out of my kit (I can’t begin to explain to you how retched that smelled).
There is no doubt in my mind that I will do more Ironmans, there is something so indescribable about this race and the feeling of getting to that finish line 140.6 miles after you start. The people who put on these races, participate in these races, and volunteer at them are the most inspiring and amazing people I have ever been privileged enough to meet. It’s not just about having the title of Ironman, I am a different person now than I was when I signed up for this race. I have learned so many life lessons through the training and race day about determination, discipline, and the power of positive thinking.
I have to end with a big thanks to everyone who encouraged me the past 8 months, asked how my training was going, excused my absence from social functions, and always listened to my nutty tales of training. This experience wouldn’t have been possible without everyone’s support. Particularly huge thank you to Justin and Tristen…Justin – you got me into this mess and Tristen – you helped me get out of this mess! But seriously, without you two I wouldn’t have made it thru the tough patches, the early mornings, the cold nights, the sore body, but I also would have missed out on all the happiness that this journey has brought into my life. I used to say that everyone should run a marathon because you learn so much about yourself during those 26.2 miles. I still believe that, but if you really want to learn what you are made of, I can’t think of any other one day endurance event that will be as inspiring, tough, and worth it as this was.