Be warned: this post is about the days leading up to the race and not the race itself. That’s part two!
I heard the voice that said “Cristina Ramirez … you are an IronMan” this Saturday in Panama City Beach and I couldn’t believe it! Me! I actually completed the 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and 26.2 mile run of the IronMan Florida (IMFL) race.
Getting the medal was the easy part; the closure of a monumental year-long process involving everyone around me. The entire journey, with its peaks and valleys, is documented on this blog. But the days leading up to the race were also surreal, and I had no idea what I was getting into as I embarked on the ten plus hour drive on Wednesday. Joe and the boys would follow on Friday and leaving them was a big deal, while missing their Halloween festivities added to my feelings of unease.
I stayed in a condo in Panama City Beach about half a mile from the finish line. The town had the same vibe I felt when visiting the Olympic Village in Atlanta, only there I was not competing! Athletes were everywhere; strong, army-looking men with the M dot tattoos from previous wars with the 140.6 miles. At any given moment triathletes were running or biking down the streets. Everyone, including the women, seemed strong, lean, and athletic. I wondered if they saw me and didn’t realize that I would be racing with them too.
On Thursday I woke up to a rough ocean. There was a storm and rumor was it would pass in time for the race, but the ocean was intimidating by anyone’s standard, and from my window I saw many athletes in wetsuits looking at it with doubt. I was having a hard time connecting with my Miami friends who were mostly staying elsewhere to go for a swim so I mustered all my courage and headed downstairs. But being the whimp that I am, I swam for about 15 minutes never going too far off shore. Then I figured I might as well bike and went for a solo short ride and scoped out where the IronMan Village was. When I came back I was nervous.
Very nervous. Yet I kept hearing from different groups how people wanted to stay away from negativity because they would get anxious. Too late. I was already anxious: the weather was stormy, the ocean seemed mad, and we were about to do an IronMan. It was impossible for me to not let any doubts or negativity creep in, and though I had all intentions of writing a post I couldn’t. Instead I taped this:
I then headed out the door to athlete check-in and to walk around the expo. There I met some of my Miami friends, had lunch, attended the athlete briefing where the course and rules are reviewed, and slowly things began to calm down.
That night, we had the athlete dinner where everyone eats together and hears inspirational stories of people who are in the audience and who have done incredible things to get there. I cried with the story of one young woman whose newlywed husband was killed in a cycling accident as he was training for IMFL the previous year. She was racing in his memory. Fortunately I attended with my teammates from Team Refuel by Got Chocolate Milk. These guys were old pros having done many races before: one was on her 10th IronMan! Another woman, who had lime disease began to tell me about her hurdles and her pain and her incredible story of perseverance. Two of the guys where gunning for times that are incomprehensible to me and another woman had gone to the world long course championships. Together they had a calming effect, answered questions, gave tips, and took the first timer edge off. I don’t think they realize how much they helped me because by Friday morning I was a different person.
I met up with my Miami folks for a short ride, and then went for a run by myself towards a pancake breakfast that was being served. I was sitting on my own when the Miami group found me. I was thrilled to see them and afterwards someone wrote to ask me if I was okay because I seemed homesick.
That’s when it hit me. I knew my family would be rolling in that evening, and I knew I needed that time to do the hundreds of little tasks that must get done before an IronMan. So I wasn’t lonely and I was no longer afraid. Something snapped at dinner and the edge was gone. I was able to pack all my gear bags (basically you show up at the race with just your morning clothes, everything else you need for the day has to be sorted, bagged, and delivered – including the bike – to a well oiled IronMan machine.)
I signed up to IronMan Florida the “risky” way, I waited to do it online. Most people volunteer at the Saturday race so they could stand in line to register for the upcoming year on Sunday. Whatever slots remain open are available for those who sign up online. Therefore if you wait, you have a smaller chance of getting in because there are few spaces still available. Last year, right before I went online to sign up I taped the video below. I also said a prayer that if I got in, it’s because I am meant to do this race for a bigger purpose even if I didn’t know what that purpose was. I was one of the people able to sign up within the three minutes it took for the race to sell out online.
So I came into this year of training with the confidence that I was meant to do this race even if that resolve wavered from time to time. I raised close to $5,000 for the National Parkinson Foundation and honored my dad with the race.
Joey, my Wolfpack leader who trained me to get to the start line told me:
“you are ready and you have no pressure. You have no time to beat, no expectation to meet other than finishing. When someone takes a picture of you at that swim start you should be the person smiling because it will just be a feather in your cap. ”
And guess what?
By the time I got onto the beach for the start of the race I was not nervous. I had a good night’s sleep, my family was with me, and I was looking forward to the day. It was strange not to feel butterflies, not be anxious and emotional. Right then I saw Candice, a volunteer. She had found me the day before and told me that she reads my blog. I was amazed, excited, flattered, honored, thrilled, humbled that someone who actually reads my blog stopped me and talked to me! Well it turns out that in the sea of 2,800 green and pink caps she was right in front of me; I told her she was my good luck charm. She wished me luck and took this picture:
And I was smiling. I was in the calm after the storm … what was to come next, the race itself, was the least daunting part of it all. I was ready.