I began the run with a nice little downhill. After a few minutes, I became less groggy from the bike and significantly more energized by the fact that I was officially on the run; with plenty of time to finish within the 17 hour time frame. Seven hours to be exact.
The course was two loops, basically just leading you on a super long down and back. We stayed on the same road for pretty much the entire time, although I still I found it completely beautiful, just like the rest of the town. For the beginning/end of the loop, we ran through a wide open, country-esque landscape. Eventually that road paved way to trees and rolling hills. Because it was a two loop out-and-back, I was always running past people on the other side of the road. It was delightfully distracting because I was constantly keeping an eye out for my friends and teammates. I saw a ton of friends, including Maggie and Michelle! I shouted a lot of GO TEAMs to my buddies running for Team In Training, and heard of a lot of them myself – all of the support was awesome!
By this point, my stomach wasn’t very interested in eating solid foods. I held a packet of Clif Shot Bloks in my hand (see above) for about 5 miles before I finally decided to stuff it in my pocket, never to come out again. At one point I pulled a Roctane Gu out of my other pocket, and ended up just holding it. I couldn’t bring myself to eat anything other than pretzels, bananas, and chicken broth. For the last 18 miles or so, I only drank chicken broth. And it was FANTASTIC. I could tell my body just wanted salt, so as the temperature dropped, the hot chicken broth was like heaven in a cup. Semi-surprisingly, my stomach seemed fine with the lack of “real food” all day. Beside the normal aches and pains, everything else felt okay, including my tummy. I mean, it’s not the best I’ve ever felt and there were definitely moments when I felt extremely BLAH, but I only felt nauseas when I tried to take a really deep breath (like I mentioned on the bike).
The volunteers, again, were amazing. When it was still warm outside, they handed out cold sponges. As night fell and it became cool, they had reflective blankets. And encouragement. Always lots of encouragement.
I ran for the first 13-14 miles, only stopping at the aid stations to drink. I would walk for about 2 minutes while I finished my delicious beverage (KIDDING ON THE DELICIOUS) and started running as soon as I finished.
At the pace I was going, I was thinking I could finish under 16 hours. I was really excited about that – seeing a fifteen at the beginning of my time would have made me really happy, and would have meant I basically met my A goal.
Around mile 12, I was back in town. There is a pretty big hill called IGA Hill (well, feels big when you’re in an ironman) as you turn back onto the main road that goes by the finish. The crowds are awesome here. I seriously felt like I was flying up the hill (although it couldn’t have been more than a shuffle). Everyone around me was walking so the fact that I was running made me feel like a ballllleerrrr. I was all “YES LOOK AT ME RUNNING THIS IS GREAT WEEEEE I AM DEFINITELY GOING TO RUN UP THIS HILL ON MY SECOND LOOP TO PROVE HOW FAB I FEEL” I saw my coaches, smiled and said “I FEEL AWESOME AND I AM SOOO HAPPY!!”. Somehow, I was high on life. People were cowbelling and saying I looked great. Probably because they thought I was going to turn right to the finish, when instead I still had my whole second loop. HA! Fooled ’em.
Then, I picked up my special needs bag. I saw a coworker who was volunteering at that station and she gave me a huge boost. Someone else grabbed my bag and held it open, and I peered inside. I had an extra pair of socks, some Gu and other nutrition, my carb mix in a water bottle, a pair of insoles, and some inspirational letters. I did a quick mental review of how I was feeling…and came up with nothing. I grabbed the letters that friends and family wrote me for motivation (“Everyone is getting mail here!” the volunteer said, which made me laugh.) Two volunteers helped me rip open the 4 or 5 envelopes so they would be easier to read. “You really don’t want anything else?” they asked. Nope! And off I went. I read a couple letters right away, and saved a few others for later in the evening.
Then, it immediately started raining. Cool and refreshing raindrops. I was slightly covered by trees, and my feet didn’t get wet at all. And just like that, the rain stopped as quickly as it started. I reached the turnaround point, went back down through town, and BAM.
As soon as I started going downhill, my knees were on fire. I think I muttered “owww” all the way down the hill. It was literally like I hit the wall exactly at the 13 mile mark. For a mile or so I was distracted by going to the bathroom, an aid station, seeing other teammates, etc. And then I saw the mile 14 sign and it all set in. I still have 12 POINT TWO miles to go! And I had already done the loop so I knew how long it was. Yikes. Thankfully, I knew I had plenty of time to finish 12 miles, so the smile didn’t leave my face. The run however, left. As much as I didn’t want to, I started walking. Bad idea – it made it that much harder to start running again.
After awhile I realized that if anything, it hurt less to jog, so I would continue to try until my heart rate got too high…at which point I would walk for a bit.
Around this point I opened my last letter or two. The sun was setting. I started visualizing the finish line. Off in the distance, I could hear Mike Reilly anointing finishers as Ironmen – the finish line was loud enough that I could still hear the faint cheering. I could see the lights. I was thinking about all the people I was running for and all the donors who helped me raise over $9,500 for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
I just had a little bit more work to do.
People were cheering for me by name (which was listed on my bib), always saying I looked strong. Whether I did or not, it was still a boost of confidence. (UM, EXCUSE ME, YOU’RE SAYING THAT TO EVERYONE I DON’T BELIEVE YOU ANYMORE.) So many of them were out there the whole time…every time I passed by certain points, there they were, clapping and cheering just as hard as they were the first time around. One woman in particular stood at the top of a hill toward the end of the loop, and was shouting motivational sayings through a horn. For HOURS. I wish I could hug her. She had so much energy and she was there all four times I passed by.
Around mile 18, I met a fellow TNTer from Ohio (a guy who was running in a skirt, I might add) who was walking the marathon. He said he’s done Ironman before, so I asked if during his previous races he was thinking he never wanted to do another one. “Every. Single. Time.” he said. “But I always come back for more.” At that point, I was thinking “I never ever need to do this again”, secretly knowing I had caught the bug and I’d be back someday. I knew once the memory of the pain wore off, I’d be ready again. What I remember most was my knees hurting – but I can’t remember it being any more painful than a marathon alone.
Around mile 21 or 22, someone gave me a glow-in-the-dark necklace. Very exciting. (Seriously! Overly excited.) I met a guy that people kept calling Mo (I think). I wish I caught his full name so I could track him down and thank him now, but all I really know know is that he was from Maryland. He 100% got me through the last few dark, cold, painful miles. We kept passing each other and eventually he started cheering me on. When I got a little behind, he would yell “COME ON KARA, GET UP HERE!”. We talked about work, Ironman, and how bad our knees hurt, and complained about how long the road was, and WHERE THE F IS MILE 24?! He told me he had a stress fracture so he was walking the marathon, just like the last guy. What a champ. He continued to give me encouragement and talked to me about how amazing it would be to run into the Olympic Oval and cross the famous finish line.
As we came back into town, I grabbed one last cup of broth from one of my friends who was volunteering – he just so happened to be a cancer survivor who gave the speech at our last team dinner before we left for LP. So inspiring. I thanked him for being there, and he shooed me along to become an Ironman.
We arrived back at that hill. The one I swore I was going to run up. Psh. NO THANKS, I thought. I clutched my little cup of chicken broth and smiled at the spectators. And then, suddenly, there were two of my coaches! I was super surprised to see them, as I figured they would be at the finish line at that point. I was thrilled to see them, and they walked up the hill with me, offering so many words of support and wisdom. I saw a woman I’d been emailing with all year (my Uncle’s coworker who is an Ironman herself and who I only just met that morning) who ran out to walk with me as well. About halfway up I declared “I can run now!” and kind of stood there holding my chicken broth, not sure what to do with it. My brain was not functioning. My coach Meghan grabbed it from me and they all cheered me up the hill for the last mile. ONE FREAKIN’ MILE. How had I made it this far?!
I got my butt in gear and hauled myself up the rest of the hill. I turned around at the turn-around (oh so THAT’S why they call it that!) and shuffled my way toward the Olympic Oval, where so many incredible champions were made. Time to make them proud.
The screaming got louder. Mike Reilly’s voice was overpowering. I bypassed the “second loop” sign, and turned right for the finish. Suddenly, I was in a tunnel of people. I gave a few high fives, and stupidly wondered why so many people wanted to high five me – I didn’t realize how close I was. I can’t turn them down, I thought! So I ran alongside the edge of the tunnel slapping every hand that appeared in front of me. People were banging on the side of the walls.
There it was. My family was there. My team was there. My coaches were there. Friends were there. I didn’t see a single one of them. I wish I had slowed down to take it all in. I thought I would have cried, but I didn’t. I just ran, staring, smiling at that one spot I’d been looking for all day. For months, really. The finish line. I felt like my smile was going to explode, it was so big.
And I didn’t see Mike Reilly, but I heard him loud and clear. I won’t forget his words for the rest of my life.