It took me way too long to write this part (it’s been almost four months since I posted the swim and bike write-ups), and here’s what stinks about that: I think I have forgotten some of the minor details about the marathon that I wanted to capture by writing these blog posts about my race. After I got the first two parts written and posted, I had to postpone writing about the run so I could catch up on a lot of things I’d had to put off while training during the first half of the year. But in the end, that’s okay – I certainly remember the important things.
I have to tell you, finishing the bike with the sun high in the sky was the most relieved I have ever felt in my entire life. I had finished the swim in plenty of time, and now I had finished the bike in plenty of time too. I had well over 7 hours (SEVEN HOURS!!) to finish the marathon. I could feasibly speed walk the entire thing and still finish within the allotted 17 hours. Which, it turns out, is a really bad way to look at it, in my opinion. One lesson learned.
That is the only preface I’ll give to Part 3 of my Ironman story. I’ll try to keep it shorter than the first two parts – ha, yes, that may have been a joke. (Definitely a joke.)
Race day | Bike-to-run transition: 14:35
Coming into the bike-to-run transition was uneventful, though not my top-5 smoothest dismount ever (luckily it had nothing to do with my tilt-a-wtf handlebars). Historically, I’ve always pulled my feet out of my shoes while I’m still riding, so my bare feet are sitting on top of my shoes when I enter the dismount area. I just leave my shoes attached to the pedals and hop off so that I’m already barefoot for throwing on my running shoes (I typically don’t wear socks for either the bike or the run). Except that, on this bike, the crank was clearly much lower than my own tri bike’s crank, so the shoe of my dismount pedal (the one in the low position) DRAGGED on the ground once my foot wasn’t holding it horizontal anymore, which totally startled me as I jumped off the bike. Whoops. But I was off my bike without a spill, and that’s all that really matters. In Ironman races, completely different from normal triathlons, you immediately hand your bike off to a super-awesome volunteer (instead of having to re-rack it yourself – SO cool) and that leaves you free to just run straight for your Run Gear Bag. That means I quickly lost sight of my bike, and didn’t worry about the shoes one second longer. I’m hoping the volunteer just hucked it over her shoulder on the way back to my rack spot once she realized it had Fred Flintstone still attached to it.
So! It was finally time to run. But, holy moly: I was tired.
I didn’t run to my Run Gear Bag. I walked. And after I grabbed it, I walked into the changing tent. I wasn’t in the kind of hurry that I would have been for a shorter triathlon, and walking helped me gather my legs, and my mind. The changing tent was wayyyyy less crowded than it was after the swim, and I easily picked an empty chair to put my bag in…and promptly continued out the exit side of the tent to the port-a-loos so I could pee, since there weren’t any on the entry side (from this point on, my stops to pee were as frequent as my use of commas in my posts – my hydration levels were clearly not a problem, a lesson I am so glad I learned in time for this race).
Once I got back into the tent, I just… sat. I managed to convince myself that the run was going to be fine, when really all I wanted to do was take a nap. While I sat, I ate a few pretzels from the tent’s snack table, though for once in my life, eating wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do. I was feeling worn out from the windy bike ride, and pretty daunted by the run ahead of me. I’d done the distance before – I’d run two marathons in the past. But they were preceded by tons of sleep and bagels…not a swim and a bike ride.
After sitting for a couple minutes, I peeled my soggy bike clothes off. Except for the arm warmers, I put on all new (read: DRY) clothes, and let me tell you, putting on those fresh run clothes was a fantastic feeling. What I wore: my Mercury Endurance running top, an OMG-comfortable running skirt* from Moving Comfort, my new keepsake IMCDA hat, kept on the arm warmers for the cool night air to come, and my trusty-as-hell all-black Brooks PureFlows paired with some randomly awesome Swiftwick ankle socks that I got for free at DirtRag Fest back in May, which proved to be fantastic socks on all my training runs (in that, they kept blisters at bay – a miracle).
*Thank GOODNESS that skirt was comfortable, because like the bike I rode, this skirt was an untested item going into the race. (I KNOOOOOW, such a risky decision.) I had worn it for a really short bike ride, but had not worn it to run in. But…it did not let me down. Not only is it crazy comfortable, the shorts underneath stay put and they keep chafing to a nil…and best of all, I didn’t feel self-conscious in them. “Love your body, blah blah blah.” Screw that. I hate my legs. Period. Race photos make me cringe. This skirt solved that problem. Now I want to order 20 of them.
Jenny mentioned that those all-black running shoes were actually a really great way to keep an eye out for me, because everyone and their brother wears brightly colored shoes these days. Something I hadn’t even thought about – I bought them in black because it hides dirt and I like black for its simplicity.
But enough of the fashion show. After I got dressed, physically I was ready to run, but mentally, I still wasn’t quite ready to get up off that seat. Luckily, long before traveling out for the race, I’d read stories where Ironman racers had asked loved ones to write them motivational cards to read during their races, and I just loved that idea completely, especially since my parents would be unable to make it out west for the race…so I’d asked my sister and brother-in-law, my mom and dad, and Bern to write some for me ahead of time. They all happily delivered! I had first put their messages in my pocket during the first transition, but hadn’t had time to read them on the bike. Now was the perfect time. So I opened up the little plastic baggy I’d protected them in.
There were so many! And they were fantastic – I proceeded to laugh and cry all at the same time.
I read my parents’ cards first.
I’m pretty sure if my mom could’ve been in Idaho, she’d have run ahead of me, dangling an ice cream cone in front of me, knowing it would keep me going 😉
I read Jenny and Mike’s cards next.
These made me laugh out loud…and before you ask, of COURSE there were some poop and fart jokes included. Laughter ensued. I think the tent volunteers were suspicious that I was losing my mind, but they didn’t report me to medical, so that was good.
I would have been surprised if I did NOT get this particular card – my brother-in-law is a huge Journey fan. I read this, and then out on my first lap (which ran past the Beachouse on Coeur D’Alene Lake Drive where many people go to park and cheer), a very well-prepared spectator had brought a full sound system to run from the back of their vehicle, and they happened to start blaring that very song as I ran past. And so there were tears
And finally, I read my husband’s cards – he had marked some for the bike, some for the run, and some for anytime. As you’ll see, he didn’t get to write these ahead of time, and had to use some high-quality hotel stationary.
I read the anytime and bike cards first, then the run cards last.
Haha, oh yes, another fart joke!
I decided I was ready to run. I tucked the one “Run” card that Bernie had written for me into my skirt’s back pocket (did I mention I love that skirt?), and put the rest of the cards in my Run Gear bag for safekeeping.
Time to hit the road, Jack.
Race day | The run: 6:03:03
I could easily split my run into two segments: the first 16ish miles, then the rest.
The run was two laps, out-and-backs that started in town, through the neighborhoods, then followed the lake for a while, and up and over a hill for the turnaround. My plan was to run a very careful pace in between each of the aid stations, which were placed pretty much at every mile marker. Then I would walk through each station and consume anything I could get my hands on – food and liquid. I also planned to walk up the hill near the turnaround point to conserve energy.
That strategy worked well for the entire first half. I executed everything the way I had planned (though you could argue my first 2.5 miles were TOO fast, since that pace includes walk breaks).
Before I even reached mile 1, I got to see Jenny and Mike, who were waiting just past the lake, and I was beyond ecstatic to be able to stop and give them huge hugs (they told me Bernie had gone to the bike transition area to grab photos, but since the online timing system was running behind on updates, he had missed me, and hadn’t made his way back to where they were standing yet). Seeing Jenny and Mike was incredible, and their cheers and fresh words of motivation (including letting me know how many people were cheering for me via facebook; Jenny said, “Just so you know, your facebook page is blowing up,” which made me wish I could hug everyone on there) probably contributed to my quick first couple of miles 🙂
I felt great heading out for my first lap of the run. There were so many spectators, some with mega-phones, tons of cowbells, some vuvuzelas (AWESOME), so many with signs (no one naked though, threatening to drop their sign if I didn’t hurry up), and one house even roped off their front lawn and hired a DJ for a giant Ironman spectator party. The music pumping from that house was fabulous; since the run was two out-and-back laps, I may or may not have Dougied my way past that house all four times I passed it.
And I was eating plenty – I would grab potato chips and chocolate chip cookies and orange slices – and drinking plenty, mainly water with the occasional de-fizzed coke. I had to stop at probably every third port-a-loo to pee.
But by the time I got back to town to finish the first lap, I was starting to feel the weight of the entire day. Passing the point where finishers got to go left, and those on their first lap went right, was a bit disheartening.
As I headed close to the turnaround to start my second lap, Bernie had wandered up about a quarter mile out from where Jenny and Mike were waiting to cheer me on. While I had seen them all a couple times from afar on the bike portion, the speed on the bike is too much for more than a glance. So when I saw Bernie waiting for me on the run, it was really the first time I’d seen him since I’d left him to start the swim…and since tired Julie equals emotional Julie, I instantly burst into tears. And then I was shocked when Bernie started crying (“because YOU’re crying!” he said – well, shit). I promised that I wasn’t crying from having a hard race, or from pain, but that I was just overwhelmed with the emotions – from finally getting to hug him, from reading the sweet, sweet cards, from exhaustion, and from the fact that I was getting even more confident that I was going to finish.
Bernie stayed with me until we got to where Jenny and Mike were waiting, and I continued to the turnaround point. As I headed out for the second loop, I passed the three of them once again. Bernie noticed that I was keeping pace with a couple guys who were running together, so he yelled for me to stick with them if I needed help keeping my pace. They, in turn, promised they were doing plenty of walking, so I managed to keep up with them for the next three miles (thank you, strangers!).
After that though, I started to really feel…done. (With running, but at least I wasn’t to the point of crawling, ha.) I couldn’t keep up with my newly-found pacer friends, even with walk breaks. Running was making some weird things hurt – not just my legs, but my chest muscles, and oddly, my obliques (and trust me, those NEVER hurt, which is why they’re pudgy, ha). So…I walked more and more.
One advantage to the slow pace was that I managed to fully enjoy the breathtaking sunset behind me over the lake.
So about halfway out on the second lap, I got to the point where I would only break into a run occasionally, but even those short and sparse runs dwindled before I even got to the lap turnaround point for the second time, and by the time I headed back up the hill for the last 6 miles into town, I just could not make myself break into a run. I was only walking. I think the fact that I knew I had plenty of time to make it to the finish line kept me from hurrying, and I wish (in hindsight, of course…20/20!) that I’d pushed myself to keep running. At the time, though, I really thought I didn’t have any more run in me.
I still made sure to keep up my fueling. Once it started to get dark, one of the best things at the aid stations (well, every other aid station) was the freshly-made chicken broth. I don’t typically eat chicken (I’m a half-ass vegetarian), but that broth was some of the most body-warming and heart-warming stuff I’d ever consumed. And oddly, it started to be the only thing I wanted, so at the stations without it, I would drink water, and broth at the ones that had it. Since I only got to have it every two miles, I would savor it the best I could. It was perfect.
It was a bit lonely. And getting chilly – I yanked the arm warmers back up, happy I’d kept them on. The aid stations handed out glow necklaces at dusk. The spectator noise was a little less lively. The party at the house with the DJ had been shut down. And the worst: I stopped meeting people coming the other way, which meant anyone who hadn’t met the time cutoff for the run had gotten pulled from the course. That was very sad to me.
I managed to find a fellow walker with about 3 miles to go, and chatting with him made the time go by much faster. He was a fairly young dude, a tennis instructor who was living in California, but had grown up somewhere in Idaho; his parents were in CDA to cheer him on. I cannot remember his name. It was his first Ironman as well, but the truly crazy part was that it was also his first triathlon. Wow. He found some energy closer to the finish, and ran the rest of the race.
Obviously, walking was slow as molasses in an arctic January. But less than a couple miles from the end, in a particularly dark and quiet neighborhood with only a couple volunteers pointing the way, I rounded a corner, and Bernie was waiting for me. Ahhh, my knight in shining armor! For this race, he didn’t have a bike (not even a unicycle!) with him. The problem with my walking was that those who were tracking me got really worried when my times didn’t update at the pace they were expecting (and also due to technical difficulties on the website), so Bernie decided to hoof it out and find me. Such a sweet dude 😉
Bernie stuck with me that last chunk of the run, and was with me when we reached that point where finishers got to go left…when *I* got to go left! I think I giggled like a three-year-old kid on a tree swing. Or maybe it was more maniacal than that.
When we got to where Jenny and Mike were waiting, Bernie squeezed my arm and joined them – the chute I was about to enter to funnel me to the coveted finish line is very long and is for finishers only. It’s where finishers have time to actually relish the end of the race. It’s also a complete jolt of energy, which is why I managed to run the last quarter of a mile of the race. So I told them I’d see them on the other end, and started running.
Let me just take a moment to explain how that chute feels.
For one, you’re FINISHING. There is no better feeling than to reach the point where you’re actually meeting the goal you set many, many months ago.
Two, you feel like a complete rockstar – the chute is WILD. There are what seems like millions of people, total strangers, leaning over the chute walls just to high-five you and scream your name. It didn’t matter that it was almost 11 o’clock at night.
And three, when Mike Reilly announces your name over the loudspeaker – “Julie McGroarty, you are an Ironman!” – it’s an experience that’s hard to match.
Holy moly. I had finished.
And to end with a pretty rad anecdote, you may (though probably don’t, haha) remember a story I put up on Facebook some time before the race: Kerri: It takes a village for Ironman
A local reporter named Kerri Thoreson wrote that quick article about how she was planning to volunteer as a catcher at the finish line for the 9pm to midnight shift. They’re called “catchers” because some racers are so exhausted at the finish line that they actually have to be caught! Well, wouldn’t you know it, out of a thousand catchers at the finish line, KERRI was the one who “caught” me! (Luckily, I was more than able to continue standing without assistance.) She was amazing. As I’m sure they’re trained to do, she didn’t let me go from the time I crossed the finish line until she delivered me to the athlete area at the end. She led me first to the water bottles, then to get my finisher shirt and hat, then to get my medal, and to get my official finisher picture taken, and only once I stepped into the athlete’s area did she leave me with a hug. It was so, so cool.
I took a pass on the massages (WHAT – no idea, momentary lapse in judgment), grabbed another water, and continued out through the gate to get to the only people I wanted to see, the ones who had sacrificed their day just to watch me race: Bernie, Jenny, and Mike.
I didn’t shut up the entire walk to the car and subsequent car ride back to the hotel, where I promptly fell asleep.
What a day. 🙂
Race Day: The Day After
First order of the day: coffee and a gigantic breakfast at Elmer’s Restaurant.
Go on, click the link. DELICIOUS. Oh, and you know what else I had for breakfast?
Second order of the day: shopping for finisher gear (yes, of COURSE I bought the Finisher jacket), and checking out the lakeside and Athlete Village (minus the crowds – huge difference!).
Third order of the day: rent SUPs from CDA Paddleboard Company and go stand-up paddling on the lake. My sister and I had decided long before the trip to make this a post-race activity, so we had been looking forward to it for quite a while. Paddling on the lake was breathtaking, and so refreshing. Yes, the water was cold, but that just means don’t fall off! 😉
And our final order of the day was to enjoy a delightful dinner at Dockside Restaurant courtesy of my parents, who had to stay back on the east coast. Thank you, Mom and Dad – you know I got a milkshake with that meal! I think there is a blurry picture of it somewhere, but it would have been hard to get a focus on how quickly I slurped that thing down.
So yeah – June 29th and 30th, 2014 will go down as a couple of the best days of my life. Thank you to Jenny, Mike, and Bernie for being there, and thank you to everyone who cheered for me from afar, particularly my parents and nephews (the video text from Nick and Tony telling me good luck in my race was the cutest thing ever).
Now, for some Q&A…
How was it, racing in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho?
Stunning. HILLY. Beautiful temperatures. Windy. Though the best part was how the town absorbed the event and made it a full-on party. The local papers all gave immense coverage. It was so neat to feel so welcome.
Was doing an Ironman expensive?
HOLY CRAP YES. Pool membership, fuel, coach, travel, bike rental, …and time. Money isn’t the only thing this cost me.
Was I sore the next day?
Surprisingly, not bad at all, and I attribute that to all the walking I did. I mean, it was rough to get out of bed, but I walked down to get coffee at the hotel breakfast room, and just the act of moving got rid of a lot of the stiffness. And I really think going SUP’ing helped enormously – it worked different muscles but very gently, and kept me upright and moving. It didn’t hurt that we paddled right next to one of the prettiest spots of the run course 😉
Did I buy any memorabilia?
Yup – a TON. I was definitely an Ironman newbie, haha. I got an IMCDA hat, a finisher shirt (the MDot on the back has everyone’s names in it!), the kickass finisher jacket, and you know I got a 140.6 sticker. But the best thing I got, my husband bought for me:
I also went the cliché route and got the red MDot forever stamped into my skin, on the back of my left shoulder.
Will I do another Ironman race?
Yep. Well, I think so anyway. Why? Because I can do better, and I’m too competitive with myself to let that run be my best time. I learned a ton from this one, during the training and the race itself, and I can apply all of that experience to try and have an even better 2nd Ironman.
Maybe I’ll sign up for IM MD…