I don't really want to talk about this, but by now some of you have already viewed the results of my race yesterday, so I'm mustering what courage I have to write my preliminary race report. I have to say that I have never felt so appreciated and supported in all my life. The flood of e-mails, texts and comments I've received in the past few days mean more than I could ever explain, although answering them all has been a slow and painful process. But, before I get started, let me give one disclaimer: this is going to be shorter and far less entertaining than any race report I've ever written.
Good. So, now that we've gotten that out of the way.
My goal for this race was simple: to finish. It's the first race I've entered where that really was my goal. Normally, I care, and then everyone tells me NOT to care, but then I spend the entire week after the race talking myself out of being upset that I wasn't as fast as I wanted to be. Not this time - I just wanted to finish.
My parents and aunt were down from Alabama to watch the race. Sherpa was there. Everyone showed up - either in person or via texts, calls and emails - to wish me luck. Usually, Disney races are boring because they have you running through the park early in the morning while it's closed. This one was actually really cool - although the expo was MUCH smaller than I expected.
This was my race. I was going to OWN THAT COURSE.
I executed every single part of my plan precisely and successfully, with the exception of getting slightly less sleep than I'd have liked, but nonetheless, everything from dinner the night before to nutrition to transition to the three sports themselves went exactly as planned. I went nice and easy on the swim, during which I passed some of my wave and the wave before, getting out of the water in 1:05 - again, I'm a lot slower than I was before my stroke changed, but I had expected the swim could take me up to 1:15 or even 1:30 since I was purposely going super-slow.
Then I got out on the bike course and also did exactly as planned: I saved my legs for the run. I had the single best bike ride I'd ever had in my entire life. I knew at mile 50 that an Ironman was in my future - yes, all 140.6 - when, at one point, rolling down a hill at 30mph, I found myself singing the lyrics to Bon Jovi's Living on a Prayer at the top of my lungs:"Whooooaa, we're halfway there . . . ." (I had passed cyclist after cyclist who'd blown their energy at mile 20 or 30 by this point.) Started to bonk around mile 52, got out of my shoes during the last few miles to let my feet relax and breathe, as planned, spinning easily, then kept my HR down through T2 just as I had done in T1. With the exception of that last few miles, I maintained an average of about 14.1mph. Real athletes would call this slow. I would call this extremely respectable on my first 56-mile course.
I had 4 hours left to finish the half marathon. Right knee was sore from being in cycling position, but otherwise in great shape. My legs felt fantastic as I trotted out onto the run course. The first part of the 3-loop course starts in the shade, too. Sherpa was waiting for me at the finish. My parents were crowded at the turnaround.
And then the unthinkable happened.
Triarrhea. Just like at St. Anthony's.
Only this time, I hadn't taken both the pills that keep me awake. And I didn't take ANY energy drink. So that left only one cuplrit: GU or my pre-race breakfast. The first I've trained with off and on - it used to bother me about 2 years ago, until I started taking one particular flavor. The second I've trained with extensively. I'm honestly uncertain about the cause. In any case, I spent loop 1 in the porta-potty with diarrhea and constipation. By that time, hyponatremia was starting to set in. I know way too much about this condition because one of my medical conditions includes a natural tendency toward hyponatremia. And this race was brutal. Unshaded (except that first few meters) sweltering, the run left several pro and elite athletes passed out on the course with medics, suffering from some of the same symptoms I was experiencing.
I was already in tears. My mental iPod had long been replaced with the noise of a giant calculator, re-estimating my pace over and over in my head. For the first time in my life, I prayed outloud, begging the Powers That Be to let me make it in time. I wept and jogged simultaneously as I passed my parents. "I don't think I'm going to make the cutoff," I choked out at one point, knowing good and well that crying expends precious energy. My aunt and mom asked if I was going to keep going. I hope I didn't blow snot bubbles on them when I loked at them as if they'd just spoken to me in a foreign language and answered, "Yes."
At one of the last aid stations, I stopped to confirm with a course worker that I could still continue as long as I finished by 4pm. The answer was yes. I kept pushing to shuffle down the shady section, Sherpa ahead of me on the grass so everyone would know he wasn't helping me. My last loop was in my grasp, and even though I almost flagged down a medic several times. I even stopped to check my resting heart rate as I rounded the corner at around 3:19.
The course was closed.
And that was it. All of the training, all of the not-training, all of the struggling with my budget and medicines and schedule, all of the blood, sweat, tears, blogging and praying I'd put into the last 6 months of my life were over in an instant. Officially. I mean, this was not me just being slow and last on the course. This was greater than that. This was the big, undeniable, f-you from the Triathlon Gods. I could practially hear all of my hard work, my great bike ride, my planning and careful execution being flushed down a giant cosmic toilet bowl.
A peer who was also struggling saw me lean down and rip off my chip. She, too, was not going to officially finish. "Put your chip back on," she said. "Let's at least cross the finish line together." I heard my mom yelling at me from the sidelines. "Yeah, come on, Meggan!!!" That last few moments was a blur of tears and activity. We crossed the tape. They put a finisher's medal around my neck. The guy who handed me my shirt and my hat at the end was apologizing to me that he didn't have any sizes but large. Everyone was calling me Ironman. I told him he couldn't give me anything and tried to hand him back my medal, too. "I didn't finish my last loop," I choked. He didn't care. I did. Wearing that stuff would be unethical. Even keeping it feels fraudulent.
I stood at the exit area with Sherpa for a good five minutes, weeping in his arms. I am crying now as I type this. Because, you see, this is not some silly sprint- or international-distance race for which I can just go and sign up in another month or two and show the course who's boss, as I did with the only other race I DNF'd for medical reasons. This is Ironman. This is an event I'll have to wait perhaps an entire year to even attempt again, especially with location and costs to consider. And, as much as I was afraid that I wouldn't finish, I really believed I would do it. Especially as the bike was ending. And you know what? Everyone else believed I would, too. And I let them all down.
Everyone is telling me things like, "you know how many millions of people don't even have the guts to start that distance, let alone -almost- finish?" But I just feel blank. With my phone and computer falling apart too, I feel as if the whole first part of this year disintegrated underneath me. I don't know what else to say. I suppose there will be more later.
After I throw out that medal, hat and t-shirt.