We talked about our finish line picture when training for IronMan Florida. Arms up in victory, jump, kick – there are many ways to celebrate the epic 140.6 mile marker. I figured I’d have plenty of time to think about this on race day as my best-case scenario had me finishing in fourteen hours.
On my last post, I left you on the shores of Panama City Beach. I was calm and ready. I seeded myself with the group that estimated finishing the 2.4 mile swim between 1h15 and 1h30. The theory is that starting with people who expect to swim at your pace reduces the chances of being swum over – a big concern of mine.
To the world the swim start looked like this:
But from the inside it flowed better. Not only were the waves significantly smaller than in previous days, once you passed the break things were smoother. The “gun” went off, and I was swimming in the midst of thousands of people creating a massive draft. Between the draft and the wetsuit I didn’t have to exert much effort to move forward. At times my mind wanted to panic but I kept moving; no one was trying to get over me. I did stop a couple of times at the buoys to give myself that mental break. I would site the kayaks and make sure I was somewhere near them and before I knew it, I was bodysurfing my way back to the beach. I was surprised people were walking and not taking advantage of the waves coming in as I “surfed” passed them.
I ran past the wetsuit strippers to get my Bike Gear Bag where I had packed everything I needed for the 112 mile ride. I called out my number “934” and ten other people called it out so by the time I actually got there, a volunteer had my bag in hand.
I then walked into a makeshift women’s changing room inside the hotel ballroom. There were rows of chairs and when I sat on one, an extraordinarily helpful volunteer dumped my gear bag and began laying out everything on the floor while I changed clothes. She stuffed all my nutrition in my shirt pocket, snapped closed my helmet, sprayed sunblock, and wished me well. She told me she would pack things up and pushed me out the door.
As I ran towards my bike I heard ten thousand other volunteers call my number. By the time I got near it someone already had the bike off the rack and waiting for me. OMG. Here we go ….
There was headwind at first, but I’m from Miami and wind doesn’t scare me. Though it was work, I made it to the first aid station. Imagine a line of twenty people or so each holding out something you might need: water, electrolytes, gels, Bonk Bars, bananas, etc. You slow down, call out what you want and without stopping a volunteer places your desired item onto your hand. Not long ago I would’ve had to stop in order to get supplies, so as I rode through the stations and got what I needed I thought I was the coolest thing on earth.
10, 20, 30 miles went by. The course was packed, especially at the beginning so there was a lot of drafting. Some of it was inevitable, and then there was the occasional pace line. The IronMan is not a draft legal race, meaning you must leave about 4 bike lengths between you and the bike in front of you. Riding a pace line means you ride inches away from the bike in front, resulting in using 30% less energy and being able to hold a faster speed for longer. There is no way a sucker like me can keep up with a pace line, so it was annoying to be passed by them and then see almost empty penalty tents.
I began to feel something weird in my lungs and being the hypochondriac that I am, I thought maybe I had pulmonary edema … a very serious condition that can be fatal. Of course, I actually know very little about the condition other than an article I read once about some guy doing an IronMan who almost died because he pushed through what seemed fatigue and pain but was really water filling up in his lungs. So I prayed and told God that I did not want to die but I could not trust my feelings so if I were meant to stop to please make the message obvious; as in give me a flat tire. Nothing happened so I kept pedaling.
By mile forty I was looking forward to seeing my friend Carol volunteering at special needs in mile 56. As this was my first IronMan I envisioned special needs as a rest stop like the ones in organized century rides: you stop for a minute, use the restroom, check in with people and then head out again. Turns out special needs was a bunch of boxes on the floor and a volunteer hands you yours. All I got to do was say hello to Carol as I rode by.
We then hit the rolling hills, and I am pretty sure we faced them with headwind. I was grateful for my GEICO tour experience and for riding mountains in Portugal; otherwise those hills would’ve seemed intimidating to a pancake flat road lover like me. I just rolled with them and enjoyed not pedaling on the way down.
The twelve miles between 100 and 112 are the longest miles in cycling. By then I was done and ready to get off my bike. I was feeling woozy. I also had a small cramp on my side and I guessed it was from being in aero position (with my elbows on the bike) for so long though the thought of pulmonary edema still roamed my mind!
When I reached transition I saw Carol again but I didn’t want her to see that I was struggling in case she talked to Joe. I didn’t want anyone to worry.
Someone swooped my bike, handed me my run gear bag and I was escorted once again to the makeshift dressing room. I stumbled upon a chair and the volunteer helping me kept looking to make sure I was still upright. Then, out of the blue, the woman next to me asks “are you TriathlonMami?” Huh? Turns out she was Lara from @RunStrollerRun … a fellow tweep and blogger. We chatted for a bit while volunteers helped us put our running clothes on. I thought I would stop at a medical tent and just ask someone if I was dying, because if I weren’t I was going to finish this race! I didn’t feel terrible but I didn’t want to be the selfish woman who left orphan children because she wanted to do an IronMan. I wanted outside verification that indeed, I didn’t have pulmonary edema as if I even knew what that was.
Out of transition I got lathered with sunblock by another volunteer and began “running” my first marathon ever. Then I heard someone say “salt” and I remembered: I have salt tabs! I stopped and when I took my little pill box out a volunteer asked me “happy pills?” Little did she know; I answered “even better … salt pills.”
I am not sure when it kicked in but the salt began to work. I stopped again at the first water station on mile one. I asked if there was a medic but none was to be found. I was feeling better, but again didn’t want to die of pulmonary edema. I figured I’d go to the next water station and try there. That stop came up super fast, and no one was there so I just kept going to the next one.
The run began to go remarkably well. My fear of imminent death subsided, and I passed a couple of medics which I ignored. I saw friends running, stopped to give Andreas from Ultrabikex a hug (after all, a big reason why I was there was because of him and of Ultrabikex’s sponsorship), and before I knew it 13 miles were done.
Then I saw Rick, one of my teammates at Chocolate Milk Team Refuel. When he sped by me he put his hands on my shoulder and I told him “Hey Rick! I’m going to be an IronMan today!” He replied “yes, you are!” From then on I knew that even if I crawled through the second thirteen-mile loop I would make it in time.
In fact, I was going much faster than anticipated. I started doing math, and because I can’t add without Excel, I was distracted re-calculating my finish time while I kept running. Eventually I realized I could beat fourteen hours.
But my stomach began to get upset at the ridiculous amount of gels I had ingested. Still if I set my mind I could run. I never thought about how many miles I still had to go … I just focused on the mile ahead: “run to the next aid station” or “run to the next mile marker.” As it got darker, people walked more than they ran. For no good reason I began to walk more too, though at least would tell myself “walk with a purpose.” My dialogue then turned to: “run to the next stop sign” or “run to the next cone.” At mile 22 I realized that as long as I could ingest a gel without puking, I was going to finish under fourteen hours. And fortunately that was the case.
By mile 24 I stopped running and walked. I was going to finish well under fourteen and I just wanted to relish the moment. I was smiling. I was about to seal the deal on this IronMan thing and even if I never do another one … I’d have bragging rights for life.
I turned into the mile 25 and could hear the finish line. I knew my family would be there and I got a spring in my step. With a quarter mile to go, the guy next to me asked who should go first for the picture and I told him to go ahead … I wanted to enjoy this. The finish shoot was lined with people with their hands extended for you to high five them and I did. And I told any kid there “I want to see you doing this someday buddy” and after 13 hours and 42 minutes of racing I heard: “from Key Biscayne, Florida …. Cristina Ramirez … YOU ARE AN IRONMAN.”
My finish line picture pose you ask? Head bowed down in gratitude. I did not make it there alone. My husband and boys have stuck by the whole way, my family, Wolfpack teammates, sponsors, friends, this was not a solo victory. I just represent the collective effort, and for that I am eternally grateful.
And so we, my friends, we are IronPeople. Thank you for coming on this incredible adventure with me.