This post talks about the end of IronMan Florida and what lies ahead. It is sponsored by Got Chocolate Milk but fortunately what I write is entirely my opinion and even if I were not sponsored, I would say the same things so … talk about truth in advertising.
Last post, I left you as I crossed the IronMan Florida finish line with my head bowed down in gratitude. Two feelings ran through me simultaneously: the immensity of 140.6 miles and its irrelevance. I was amazed at what I had done, yet I felt it was nothing extraordinary. After all, didn’t 2,800 other athletes do the same thing just that night, and every weekend around the world? And didn’t so many of them face challenges and struggles much bigger than mine? I raced with Joe Stone, also from Team Refuel by Got Chocolate Milk. He wanted to be the first quadriplegic to complete an IronMan but unfortunately missed the swim cutoff by just a few minutes. I was inspired by a blind woman and her guide riding a tandem bike and then running with a rope connecting them. And by CJ, another Team Refuel member who is battling Lime disease and was walking in crutches the night before the race. Their journeys were so much more monumental than mine and I was in awe. Running through the finish shoot I knew, beyond a doubt, that I did not make it there alone, and that whatever goals come next will be set from this point of gratitude.
But several of you have asked me what happens when the race is over so let me step back and describe that to you.
As soon as I crossed the finish line, a “catcher” grabbed me. This volunteer put her hand on my back, congratulated me and walked me through an assembly line of other volunteers: one who took the timing chip from my ankle, another gave me a hat, a third a tshirt, a fourth a water bottle, another a medal, and finally a space blanket. My catcher then escorted me to the photographer who would take a picture I ended up not purchasing. That’s when I saw Joe and the boys and my smile was finally complete.
I hadn’t seen them before as Joe had strict instructions to go have fun and not spend the day waiting to see me for a split second. Instead they played golf and went to Ripley’s Believe It Or Not. But I needed them at the finish line, I had to share the moment with them because this whole thing was for my boys to see that hard work pays off and that you can do anything you set your mind to … you just need to be willing to do the footwork.
I got out of the athlete area and we made our way to the Got Chocolate Milk stand. Being part of Team Refuel had it’s perks all weekend including a handy VIP bracelet even though I was too shy to actually use it often.
I guzzled down two boxes of chocolate milk. It was the only thing my stomach could handle at this point. I was hungry but the thought of pizza made me want to vomit. I knew that I had a forty minute window to refuel my body so that I wouldn’t be so sore and tired on Sunday, and I knew chocolate milk would provide me with the right mix of carbohydrates and protein to help with that recovery. I knew that because I had been using it all through my training and race day was no different.
Amazingly I was not exhausted. I am not saying that I would want to keep going, but if I had to, I would. Nothing hurt. I was well trained by the Wolfpack and by Andreas from Ultrabikex. I was also somewhat conservative on the course, and probably held back since I wasn’t sure how my body would handle the distance.
After drinking my chocolate milk, I hugged my family tight and we went to get my bike and all the gear bags in their appropriate places. As we began the quarter mile walk home I heard the announcer call in finishers. I was smiling as I heard them become an IronMan after all the hours and miles we put into this thing.
Yet, the best part of finishing the IronMan was Facebook. Oh my goodness! By the time I showered, the boys had fallen asleep watching TV after what must have been a long day. I got online and read the incredible amount of support, love, and kindness. One of the best feelings in the world is to realize that there are a lot of people rooting for you.
Between the adrenaline, the gels, and the caffeine I couldn’t wind down enough to rest. Plus my stomach was upset and though I was really hungry I couldn’t eat. Fortunately I had a stash of chocolate milk and that is what got me through the night.
I wanted the following day to be about the boys since they drove over ten hours to come be with me. While volunteers made a crazy line to sign up for next year’s race, and finishers made another one to buy finisher gear at the store I took my guys to pancakes and Wonder Works – a sort of museum with rides and interesting tidbits like this one:
I saw some people with their finisher tshirts and jackets. I saw others with compression socks. The whole town had a hangover feeling, like something big had happened the day before. Or maybe something big just had happened to me. We decided to split our drive home in two days and left Panama City Beach that Sunday afternoon.
I live in a small island community and when I got home I received warm congratulations everywhere I went: from dropping off my kids at school to the supermarket. It was a little awkward because I am not the only person in this island that has done an IronMan. In fact, there is a super speedy mom here who races at least an IronMan a year. So a part of me wanted to minimize the kuddos but I knew Dreamer and Fearless were watching. I wanted them to notice that finishing the race was indeed hard work. For them, having a mom who wakes up early every day and rides her bicycle for hours at a time is normal. I wanted them to know that just because it seems normal, it is by no means easy, and people outside our little IronMan world recognize that more than we do.
I didn’t train at all last week, but I was constantly hungry. I ate copious amounts of food both healthy and unhealthy. I was also very tired, so when I laid down at night my body felt heavy, almost melting into my bed.
The following Saturday was the Lighthouse Run, our local 5k race. I took the boys and we ran it together. There we saw many families and many of our friends. Again I received kudos for finishing IronMan. One mom told me, in front of my kids, that she was running the 5k that day because she was inspired by my story. She wanted to set an example for her own kids. She has no idea how much I appreciated hearing that.
Because where do you go if you just finished something that seemed impossible? Three years ago I couldn’t run around the block, nine years ago I smoked a pack a day of cigarettes, and eleven years ago I almost died from some bad choices. Little by little I began making changes, taking chances. I learned to swim, bike and run. I made changes to my lifestyle, eating habits, and family. I honored my dad by raising funds for Parkinson research and I finished an IronMan.
Yet that is not the end of my IronMan road. There is more in me.
Wether it’s being an able body for someone who cannot do a triathlon alone, fundraising, or helping a mom make changes to her own life by documenting mine, what comes next is hopefully just as challenging as what has just finished. I have enjoyed the process of digging deep and overcoming my fears; and there are so many more aspects of myself I would like to improve. Why keep it a secret? Why not share the triumphs and tribulations and make this path a more meaningful one by helping even one person out there? Fortunately I know I am guided by the best of intentions. I know I can count on Joe and my family for support. I know that , and I know I’ll be drinking chocolate milk to refuel my body to get through whatever comes next.