I awoke at 5 A.M. on Saturday morning. I had slept the sleep of the unsuspecting. An Ironman. The relative lengths of each event were just a jumble of numbers to me: a 2.4 mile swim, followed by a 112 mile bike ride and then, finish the day with a full 26.2 mile marathon. Had I lost my mind? I walked to the edge of a cool, dark lake, early in the morning, and entered the water with some 400+ other triathletes, wetsuits on, ready to begin the challenge of our lives. My Ironman had begun.
Only last Saturday, I had been biking with my friends on our final long bike ride before the Great Floridian. As we headed north on A1A, we all began to talk. I had registered for the entire Great Floridian, but I had decided to step down to the Half Ironman length, the Great Floridian Challenge. I quit thinking about the massive distances and settled into thinking about doing what I deemed ” a splendid Half”. Still, the more I thought about it, the more I began to questions myself. Since I had registered for, and paid for, an entire extreme distance race, how would I feel driving to Clermont and doing only half a race? Would I regret it?
Suddenly, I knew that I would. I would look back and say that this was the only year when I had the time to train, a reduced-stress level job (second year teaching high school English) and the desire to train. I might never have the ability I possess now, or the physical prowess to do such a feat. I decided, one week before the Great Floridian, that I would indeed do the entire distance: 140.6 miles in one day.
I spent the entire next week fixated on the now-formidable task which lay ahead of me. My students were doing their mid-term exams. I focused on writing good exams, just to keep myself busy. I thought about the race and I thought about the risks involved. Could I finish this length? What if I wanted to drop down to a Half? How slow could I go and still finish? All these and more, I asked myself all week long. Then came time to leave. It seemed to all pass in a blur, leaving for Clermont knowing that within 36 hours I would be lakeside with many others who wished for the same glory for which I now wished.
Come race morning, I wore a friend’s wetsuit for the swim and knew at once, that a man’s wetsuit must be engineered vastly different from a woman’s. My thighs felt like they were in a vise and I could barely bend my knees to kick. I gave up and pushed hard from the hips. Although the two laps took me a while, I finally gazed up into the rising sun on the last lap and declared myself done when I reached the shore. One leg of my trip was complete. Now, onto the bike portion of today’s adventure.
The support staff was great, handing me my bike gear bag before I went inside the changing tent. I was tired and sat down in the first chair I could find-right by the open tent flap. As I went to peel off my bathing suit, I gazed out the open flap and realized that I was about to break an important USAT rule on indecent exposure. Move away from the tent flap, little Patty!
Hopping onto my bike, I set out through the little burg of Clermont. Biking one loop of 56 miles wasn’t so bad. I encountered all those pitfalls that come with Clermont-Buckhill Road, a rollicking series of hills that compel you to race down one side, gear up and pedal furiously up the next, so you don’t have to clip out and walk. Then, there was Sugarloaf and Hospital Hills. I got past them all, with minor delays. It was on the second loop that I decided that flying down these hills, full-throttle, was the only way I was going to make it off the bike course before it was declared “closed” and I was disqualified.
It was only the next day when I learned that I had made the bike course cut off by a whisker. Works for me, but when I returned from that second bike loop, one of the volunteers informed me that I had missed the cut-off and was disqualified. I didn’t care, I changed my bike shoes, put on my running shoes and race belt with my number on it and went for a run, a very, long run, say 26. 2 miles.
It was dark and downright spooky by the time I began my marathon loops. Still, I plodded along, doing my best marathon shuffle, jogging as fast as I could while some people walked it. Then, someone on the race course again, trying to rain on my parade, tells me that I missed the 1 A.M. cut-off for the run course. “Sorry, love,” she said in her British accent. I was furious. How could this happen? Here I was, finishing what for me will probably be the only Ironman I’ll ever do and now I find out that I am going to be DQ’d right at the end?
No way, I decided to push it on home and when I crossed the Finish Line, my two best tri buddies were there waiting for me, so was the race promoter himself, Fred Sommer. He hands me my t-shirt and hands me my finisher’s medallion. I was stunned. The clock was still ticking and I had done it. I had actually done it. The best part of finishing was that now I could say I was an Ironman , although placing 5th in my age group was the icing on the cake for this triathlete.