Finishing the Ironman Triathlon takes quite a bit. It is time consuming, difficult at time and requires sacrifice. There are many reasons why NOT to do this event. Those reasons were in the forefront for about 7 years. Then in 2009 I found a big enough reason to do it. I chose to make completing the event about something bigger than me, for if I did, maybe I would have a chance at completing my dream. In 2009 I registered for the 2010 event and chose to race for the children the Cherish Our Children International (COCI) benefits. Once I committed to this, I knew I would do what it takes to train for and complete the Ironman.
I adore children and believe they all deserve to be loved and cared for. COCI’s mission is to ”develop and fund projects and programs that provide a brighter future for the world’s most vulnerable children”. Racing for the COCI kids was an obvious choice for me because I really wanted this Ironman experience to count – not only for me but for others as well.
The Ironman Triathlon consists of a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride, and a 26.2 mile run. The race starts at 7am and ends at 12 midnight, giving the participants 17 hours to complete all 3 elements of the event. Approximately 2,500 athletes registered for the 2010 Arizona event.
For your viewing enjoyment, Bill Baumeyer, Angelica Robles and Deirdre Hammons graciously captured photos and videos of the big day. A big thank you goes out to them! See event pictures here: Click here.
One word comes to mind when thinking of this event COLD! At 6:55am race day, I wasn’t quite looking forward to jumping into 61 degree water, but I knew I had no choice. If I wanted to be an Ironman, it meant swimming in the water put in front of me. My anxiety was amplified by the fact that I was in the same body of water with over 2,000 other people, all of whom were heading in the same direction as I. That meant the potential of being kicked and being “swam over” was high. I was nervous, so I had a hard time putting my face in the water. Eventually the crowd thinned out, and I still remained cautious because the murky water didn’t help people’s navigation skills. Yes, I was hit several times, but my goggles stayed on and I was able to keep propelling forward. The swim route was an “out and back” – Swim out 1.2 miles, swim back 1.2 miles. Buoys placed along the swim course help you navigate down the river. After about 50 minutes of swimming one stroke at a time, I silently screamed “thank goodness!” I had never been so happy to see a red turn buoy because that only meant one thing “It’s time to start heading back. I’m half-way done!” On the return back to the dock, at some point I realized I hadn’t felt my feet in a while. Even though I was wearing “Aqua socks”, they didn’t seem to help, and I found myself concerned about being able to walk once exiting the water. I thought, “I guess I’ll deal with that when I need to…Gabrielle KEEP SWIMMING”. I did just that and finally made it to the dock. I was SO HAPPY! I couldn’t walk well, but I was still happy. I saw my fellow participants “running” to the transition tent, and I did not choose to join them in their haste. I took my time, hoping to give my feet time to get back to normal. No luck. It was like using popsicles to walk. Not too comfy.
In Ironman, participants are given special treatment at times. Transition is one of those times. A lady volunteer helped me change out of my wet clothes and into the dry ones I had packed the night before. I was wet, cold, and a bit frazzled, and she was like an angel helping me get things in order to head for the bike. With food and bike equipment in hand, I headed for my bike, which was handed to me by yet another wonderful volunteer. I could get used to that treatment by the way J. As I waved hi to Bill and my friends, I clipped into my peddles and headed out for my ride.
The Bike (112 miles)
WINDY is the key word for this sport. But before we get to that….2 minutes after mounting my bike, I realized I was getting no cadencereading on my watch. I pulled over to find out my reader was GONE from my bike. That meant that even though for the past 4 years, I have always trained and used cadence reading to help me monitor my cycling progress and physical exertion, I would NOT have that tool for the next 112 miles. My immediate thought was “Well, great….Oh well! Nothing I can do about it now. Start peddling.”
Back to the wind. I think from now on I should practice cycling in a wind tunnel, because what I encountered on the bike ride is like nothing I had experienced. Riding into the wind for roughly 80-90 miles of a 112 mile even is not easy. I rode at a target heart rate of less than 140 to keep it low and steady. I kept reminding myself that I had to conserve energy for the marathon ahead. Low exertion was the way to go, but the trade off was speed. I was on that course a long time. Incidentally, my feet STILL had not warmed up from that swim. At about mile 20 it started to rain, and I was glad I was prepared with wearing my wind-breaker. After the rain backed down, I removed my jacket (yes while still riding, not smart), rolled it in a ball and stuffed it at my back under my jersey. But when I did, three-quarters of my nutrition packs (needed for the next 70 miles) fell out of my jersey onto the street. I just left them there and kept going. At the half way mark, I stopped at the “special needs” station where I had stocked more food and removed my wet cycle socks. Still my feet stayed cold.
I kept riding.
At some point I saw a sign that indicated I “only” had 45 miles left, and that was a happy moment. I was ready to be off the bike and out of the wind and cold. For the last 10 miles or so, I picked up my pace a little and passed a few people, but I had to remember not to go too hard, because my legs were about to put in about 6 hours of running. The cut off time to finish the bike portion (without being removed from the course) was 5:30pm. With my love of math and my determination to make that cut off point so I could continue my event, I calculated my time just right and made it to transition at 5pm. I was once again a happy camper. “Two-thirds done” I thought.
After the bike ride, there waiting for me were my three dear Houston friends who came to volunteer for the event and register for the 2011 event (birds of a featherJ ). They helped me change into my run gear. That was a good thing, because again I was a little out of sorts and almost kept my wet clothes on for the run. Yeah, a bit out of it I guess. They would have none of that. One friend spent a few moments rubbing my feet to warm them up, and it worked! Finally! With food stocked and run gear on I GLADLY headed to the run. I was just so elated to be off that bike.
The Run (26.1 miles)
LONG is the word for this sport. There is just no other way to describe this part of the event. I consisted of three 8.7 mile loops. The first loop went well. I was feeling strong and keeping a steady pace. I had decided long ago that I would “walk during the water stations” so I kept true to that strategy. Being out there for 5-6 hours, I simply had to conserve energy. The first loop took about 1:40 and I thought “Man, I’m going to be out here forever”. And there started the mind games. By the time I finished the second lap, I had convinced myself that it was a good idea to skip the third lap and head home. I was just so ready to “not be out there” anymore. And to think I had one more lap, was just a total drag. I was “over this.” Well, I found the mental strength to keep going by digging deep. I said “alright Gabrielle, time for an attitude adjustment.” So I made myself remember that by no stretch of the imagination was this event only about me. Did I want a finisher’s medal? Sure! But at that point, having a $10 medal around my neck just wasn’t quite enough to keep me going, and my ego had “left the building” so I couldn’t pull from that source either. So then I remembered, dozens of people had been with me on this journey. They were probably tracking my progress online now. Most of these people supported my fundraising efforts. Then that led me to recall all the children who are beneficiaries of these funds – their lives are less than ideal. Then I thought of Niki with COCI who has turned her life around and is staying out of prison and is now a positive role-model for children in her community. I thought of the children in the countries COCI supports. These kids have dealt with situations we can’t even fathom. So by the time I went through this thought stream, I came to this conclusion “Many others have endured way worse than what I am dealing with now. This is temporary, and before I know it, it will be Monday, and this will all be over. Start RUNNING”. So I picked up the pace and essentially ran in the last 6 miles. I found the “Runner” in me, because surprisingly, there was more left in me. Once I got over my mental hurdle, I started moving faster and finished strong.
This event by far marked my greatest athletic and fundraising accomplishments to date. I completed Ironman, and I made the biggest difference I could for some really great children. I now know that I can do anything I set my mind to….as can YOU! We all have big goals in life, and you should know that whatever yours are you can reach them too!
I thank everyone who helped me along this journey by encouraging me to keep training, offering words of support and participating in my fundraising efforts.