Thursday, August 30, 2007

My $.02: The Run, The Finish, The Aftermath

Wow, so you've made it out of T2. You've been doing this race for something close to 8 hours or more, and NOW you have 26.2 to go. That's awesome. And insane. I think Ironman doesn't make much sense, if you were to try and stop to think about it. It can get overwhelming if you try and think of all the distance you need to cover before you cover it. So I say: don't think about it. The race is daunting enough without any added pressure, so once you get out there on the run, be in the run. Try not to do the math to figure out how much time you have to do this, or what pace you need to do that. Just - run. Trust in your training, put one foot in front of the other, and go.

Unless you do this for a living or you have some serious Kona aspirations so that every millisecond counts, look for the first opportunity you have to stop for your team of supporters, be they one or 50, and give them some hugs and high fives. They've been out all day waiting for a glimpse of you - if you've ever gone and watched a marathon or triathlon, you know that the spectator's role is hurry hurry hurry wait wait wait there he is whahoo! okay now where should we go. Likely you'll have some friends and family there that have been part of the whole adventure with you, and have sacrificed a lot in their own ways for you to become Ironman. Now is one opportunity to show them some love. You won't regret it, and neither will they.

The thing about the run is, for everybody, your strategies and plans and objectives are totally unique. You might be cruising for a sub 4 hour marathon, or maybe you're a hack like me who's just hoping to get to the finish line. Whatever your ideas, keep in mind what Rich Strauss says and race with a principle, rather than a plan. At around mile 7 or so of the marathon, suddenly Gatorade was out of the mix for me. I took a sip, nearly puked, and that was it - after all the gallons of Gatorade I'd drank in the last year in preparation for Ironman, I was officially done with it with most of the marathon left. My body just wouldn't have any more. So? Improvise. I diluted it with water, to still get the sodium and calories where I could but avoid as much of the taste, which seemed to be the thing making me gag. I drank the chicken broth for sodium. Snacked on whatever I could. When crisis comes - and it will come, be it a GI issue or a cramp or just a bad stretch of mileage or the end of Gatorade as you know it - well...I think that's when the forging of Ironman comes to completion. That's when it's about you vs. you, to steal a line from our friend Erin. And when it gets lonely out there, and hard, and impossible - that's where you start withdrawing from your Ironman deposits, which you made during your early morning long runs, or when you were out in the thunderstorms, or when you chose to run in 15 degree weather instead of hit the treadmill. Sometime in there you'll have to dig deep. And that is what becoming Ironman is all about.

There are aid stations a-plenty, and port-a-potties too, so take full advantage. Thank the volunteers, who are just awesome. High five everybody. Keep your attitude positive, and positivity will reign on your race. I believe that's true.

At 13.1, you'll approach the finish line...only to be turned away to repeat the course. Your Special Needs bag will be right there, and as on the bike, you might fill it with some special treats, or fresh socks, or an inspirational token to get you down the home stretch.

It'll get dark, and the surreal thing is that you'll have raced from morning darkness to night darkness. That's awesome.

And then, somehow and finally some way, you will find yourself inching through miles with a "2" leading the other digit, and by God you're about to finish the Ironman. I'm not going to talk about the finish chute at all, except to say two things: First, try hard - try really, really hard - to memorize what you're seeing and feeling and experiencing. Take it all in, and burn it into your head as you fly towards the music and the madness and the cheering and the frenzy. It's a very special thing, and you can take it with you for the rest of your life - the way the air feels, the sounds, the crisp fall smells. Second - when you do finally cross the Finish Line, they'll take your picture. This is a big thing, this picture, and it's only an instant. I know you'll have a lot on your mind, but try and remember a few things about that picture. Don't crowd the guy in front of you - I was so stupid excited that I flew down the chute and totally caught up to the guy in front of me just as he was about to cross. I luckly stopped just in time, extended my hand to wish him well, and let him have that moment that he'd worked so hard for all by himself, (and, lest you find me the very standard of graciousness, I admit I also stopped so that I could have my finishing moment by myself, too. And, incidentally, in my race report I thought that guy was a woman, for the stupor I was in. It wasn't until I watched the video later that I realized he was a much taller he than me. Weird.) Remember that neon glowy thingies around your neck or your wrists or whatever, they'll show up super bright in photos, so that they might obscure your face. Remember that if you're wearing an improvised garbage bag as a rain coat, it might be great to strip that before you cross the line. Or hey, maybe the photo is the least interesting thing for you in the world and you won't care about some stupid photo - that's cool too. For me, I was happy to have it. I hang it on my wall, and it means a lot to me.

You'll be caught by volunteers after you've crossed the finish line, and they'll put a well earned hunk of hardware around your neck, as well as hand you your finisher's bag with a t-shirt and hat and some other cool stuff in it. They'll physically escort you entirely through the post-finish chute, in case you need help, or need to visit the med tent. You'll be in very good hands, and very well taken care of. Tri Teacher asked me the other day in what kind of ragged state my finisher's shirt was, hers being well worn with pride, and she rolled my eyes at my OCD when I told her that I packed mine safely away right after the race. I bought other shirts that say "finisher" on them, but my official shirt gets limited playing time. Same with my finisher's hat - I don't wear that one running. That's just me - I hope to pull those babies out and impress my daughter some day when I'm old and fat and feeble.

There's a family meet-up spot, and last year they had pizza in there, and I was all over that. My family, though, wasn't aware of the meet-up spot, and they were kind of wandering around the finish area looking for me while I wandered back to kind of look for them. If you feel like you want to have some kind of plan - let's meet by the big tree near the bench on the corner - then it's probably wise to do that well before the race and have it scoped out. Probably, though, you can just wing it. Seems that's what everybody else does.

You'll be pretty amped up, despite your exhaustion, but after your intial crazy great celebration with your friends & family, don't forget you'll need to go get your bike and transition bags. It's a really good idea to have somebody that will be celebrating with you at the finish line have some comfy shorts or sweats, or a sweatshirt, and flip-flops, so you can get out of your sweaty race clothes. The volunteers will walk you through the process of getting all your gear, but only those with wrist-bands will be allowed in the bike area.

The logistics finished, you now begin the rest of your an Ironman.

And hey, that's pretty alright.

Just a few last notes:

You'll hurt. A weird, new, how-come-I-didn't-expect-that kind of hurt. Strange things, maybe, that never showed up in training; for me both my ankles just killed. My body was so sore, in every possible way, that I woke myself up groaning the next night. For two days I could hardly walk. It was crazy. Expect that, and know that it's your body's way of insisting on some rest. You can lay off the triathlete OCD for a little while and forgo a "relaxed" 5k to "cool down" or whatever - just veg out a little, your body's earned it. When you do start coming back around to training, you'll know when it's the right time - and when it feels too soon. Don't be surprised if you find things are wonky for awhile - I think my legs were fatigued seriously until early November. I suppose, at least for first-timers, that's all part of it. One thing I do suggest is that you put something on your calendar - you may very well start to experience some serious withdrawal, and it's not all emotional - your body is used to some serious mileage, and to suddenly deprive it of the natural chemicals you've been producing and stewing in for most of a year can cause some weird responses, mentally and physically. You'll probably have, even if this is the one and only Ironman you ever want to do, some kind of "now what?" Even if you get a 5k or 10k on the calendar, it's something to look forward to, something to satisfy a little bit of that familiar wanting to look ahead.

Last thing: Be patient with yourself, and especially avoid any sweeping statements about your definitive future Ironman plans (Well, unless you're in line the very next day to enter the following year's race. Then you, my friend, should sweep away with continued conviction.) It's a weird thing. The week or month or months after the race, you might feel totally content, totally uninterested in even thinking Ironman. And as winter comes you'll enjoy your free time again as your own, and you'll do fun and new and interesting things. You'll realize with shock that weekends can be used for other things than being on a bike. Maybe the next season you'll fire up some new races, or whatever. But somewhere in there it seems almost everybody starts wondering - maybe next time I could improve my run this much. Maybe I would swim a little smarter and wouldn't it be cool if...and pretty soon you realize that you've been thinking in terms of "next time" when you hadn't even imagined "next time" yet. I guess there's a reason why you're always hearing of the age grouper who's doing her 2nd or 3rd or 5th Ironman. It gets into you somehow. On the other hand...maybe you will have no thoughts of "next time" at all. Maybe everybody around you will start whispering about Ironman again, but for you that once was enough. You have other things to do, other pursuits to follow. That's cool too - and is a reason to avoid thinking of yourself as a career Ironman athlete too soon. Just - go with the flow, I guess. That first year after Ironman, at least for me, it was weird. The lessons Ironman teaches you, they don't stop after your 140.6th mile. In a lot of ways (corny alert), they only begin.

Okay, well, I think that about covers it. Hopefully you've found something of value in this $.02 series - as always, if you have questions or want to know anything more, I'm so not an expert but I'm happy to share my experiences. If nothing else, maybe you know better how some of the IM logistics are handled in Wisconsin, and you can take one thing off of your mental list. I've enjoyed going back there a bit to bring it all top of mind. And I'll see you there again in '09.


JB07 said...

Thanks for all the information you passed along about your '06 experience. I have enjoyed reading these installments as well as most everything you post. They have helped me mentally prepare for IM '07.

xt4 said...

That's awesome JB, thanks for sharing that, and I'm reallly glad they've helped. I hope you check in when you get your race number - I'll be volunteering that day, and will want to cheer you on!

JekuL said...

Thanks again for the additional information. A couple questions from an IM rookie:
1. Is there a requirement to have reflective clothing on during the run?
2. How hard is it to find special needs bags after the bike? I would like to put a spare tubular in my bag, and wouldn't mind getting it back ($100)

xt4 said...

Hey Jekul -

1. There isn't a requirement as such...but volunteers do go around when you bring in your transition bags on Saturday with some reflective strips to put on your number, and I think they prefer you do so. But are people getting yanked off the course for not having reflective stuff? No.

2. shouldn't probably put anything you can't live without in the special needs bags. They do bring them back, and you can pick them up I think right after the race - but the SN needs bags can get a little hailed out with the opening and closing and shuffling around with two thousand others. I suggest you put an extra tube in? Absolutely. Is it guaranteed you'll get it back? I'd say it's likely you'll get it back, but not certain.

Hope that helps!

Triteacher said...

I read somewhere that even if you feel great those first 2 weeks after your IM, you'd probably crash 45 minutes into your workout. I tested it out. It was true.