The moment I crossed the finish line at Ironman Coeur d’Alene the physical side of my body shut down and the emotions, which had been building throughout the day I was able to suppress, took over. In fact, it was one of the most emotional moments of my life. After taking a few steps forward I was greeted by a smiling volunteer who swooped my hot, sweaty mess into her arms, congratulated me, and placed a finisher medal around my neck. I rested my arm around her shoulder as another volunteer quickly removed my timing chip and handed me a finisher shirt and hat.
A cold towel was placed on my shoulders as I was slowly escorted over to have my picture taken in the finishing area. The photographer asked me if I wanted to remove my sunglasses, but I wanted to leave them on as my eyes were watery and full of tears. The emotions were still stirring as I managed a smile and then quickly spotted my family and friends who were waiting for me.
As soon as I saw Justin I wrapped my arms around him and cried. I was beyond grateful that he was there and had supported me through so much this past year. This was as much a victory for him as it was for me. I saw my mom, step-dad, and Axel (who had fallen asleep in the BOB) and gave them all hugs, still sheading tears and thanking everyone for being there to support me. And then, I saw my coach, Mike, and friend, Mickey, and completely lost it. I rested my forearms on the barrier and cried. Full on, uncontrollable, cry. That’s when they shared the news that I had gotten 4th in my age group. Wow! This gave me even more reason to cry and celebrate. To do that well on a tough day, on a tough course, and in my first Ironman was something I could have only dreamed of.
I looked up at my coach, again with a heart full of gratitude, and said “thank you.” He got me there. I was grateful for all the time and energy he had poured into making me a better athlete (and person) the past year, and for the fact that he had been there all day along the course from start to finish. Not many coaches will do that for their athletes, but that is what makes him unique and one of the best.
I remember saying, “that was so hard” over and over again to anyone who would listen. If you were within earshot, you probably heard me talk about how hard the race was. It really was incredibly hard. Next to a natural labor, it was physically the hardest thing I have ever done. Ever. And that’s what made the finishing moment so beautiful.
I honestly did not know what to do with myself immediately after the race, and was in a state of shock for a good hour or so. A volunteer handed me a cup of chicken broth, which I quickly drank, and had me take a seat near the medical tent. The next thing I knew she was asking if I would take a picture with her 13-year-old son, who was volunteering for the first time, and sign his t-shirt so he could share the experience with his friends and football team.
After sitting for a few minutes, I started to get nauseated and cold. Really cold. One of the volunteers escorted me to the medical tent so I could use the restroom and warm up. As I was talking to her, I felt really loopy, as though I had taken some really good drugs. They sat me down for a bit and asked me some basic questions to make sure I was mentally alert, wrapped me in a big foil sheet, and then guided me back out to my group. I was still pretty loopy, but the nausea and chills had started to disappear.
One of my Bend teammates, Michael, had finished literally right in front of me (what are the odds of finishing back-to-back after 11+ hours?), so we connected with him for a few pictures and congrats before parting ways. Michael’s HUGE family had been out on the course all day supporting and cheering, which was awesome. I’m pretty sure 25% of the spectators came from his group alone.
Justin and I headed to special needs to pick up my bike and bags, before loading up the car and heading back to the house. By that time I was feeling exhausted and very hungry. As soon as we were all back at the house, I took a shower (no chafe – woot woot), got Axel ready for bed, and then devoured a few pieces of pizza. There were only a handful of foods that sounded good to me for dinner, and pizza was one of them. We all sat around on the sectional sofa, eating pizza, sharing stories, and rehashing moments from the day’s events. All I remember was a lot of laughter and a lot of joy.
That night as I lay in bed, thoughts of Kona started to circulate in my head. There were 3 slots in my age group, which meant that one of the spots could potentially roll down to me. If that did happen, I would have to decide right then and there if I would take it. Of course I contemplated the pros and cons, but at the end of the day I would have gladly accepted the slot and forked over the money to claim my ticket. After all, Kona has been a dream of mine and I felt one step closer to achieving that dream.
The next morning we packed up, checked out of our VRBO rental, and headed down to the village for the award ceremony and breakfast. I took one last stroll through the Ironman store and purchased the finisher jacket I had been dreaming about for months. I was finally a finisher.
The awards ceremony started at 9:30am and I patiently waited for my name to be called to come up on stage with the other athletes who had placed in my age group. The seconds ticked slowly as I waited to find out whether or not I would be taking a trip to Kona. As soon as we were all called on stage, I congratulated the other four girls on their stellar performances and asked the 3 girls who had finished ahead of me whether they would be accepting their Kona tickets.
Yes. Yes. And…yes.
There was some relief, but also so undeniable sadness as well. Only 4 minutes…4 STINKING MINUTES…separated me from that golden ticket. Darn. Even though I walked away with a few tears, I refused to let it get in the way of the joy I felt for what I had accomplished the day before. I ran my race. Although there were things I could have done differently, I needed to learn by doing. Honestly, nothing will prepare you for an Ironman except doing an Ironman.
Truth be told, I never really thought about actually going to Kona this year until after the 70.3 in June where I was able to see the gains I had made in my fitness. Once the summer rolled around it seemed as though everyone I knew was asking me about whether Kona was on my radar. Part of me wanted to get there so badly – to do it ALL in one year – while the more realistic side just wanted to run a good race, get a feel for the Ironman distance, and then plan accordingly for the future. After competing in Coeur d’Alene, I’m not sure I would have been ready for that experience quite yet, especially with only 7 weeks to prepare. Kona can wait. Until then, I am an Ironman.