Saturday night, November 30th, I couldn’t sleep. I don’t know if it was thinking about the incredible luck I had in having the best people around to support me both far and wide, or the excitement of the next day, or….?
I laid down at nine pm to be only slightly awoken two hours later by a phone call. “Todo listo?” said Coach Edgar’s voice on the other end. He was calling from Mexico City.
“Si,” I responded, hoping indeed that I had packed everything the day before. “What time is it?” hoping so hoping that it was already 4:00 so I could just get up and go already! “Todavia es muy de noche.” He wished me luck, a hug, and reminded me that this was going to be one of the best days of my life.
I fell into a very fitful sleep. At 4:15 my alarm went off (not that I really needed it) and mom and I went up to the roof of our hotel who had provided a special Ironman breakfast. How fun it was to see all the competitors and their families getting ready…nervous mumblings, intense chewing, and excited glances among us all.
We rode a taxi down to the transition area where I got my bike tires pumped, stripped down to my bathing suit, and walked back and forth between where my mom was spectating and my bike, reminding her of last minute details or asking her to just hold one more thing. I felt like I was at a high school swim meet again (let it be noted that whenever my mom or dad is around I think I automatically regress to fifteen years old).
As I was walking back to my bike for the umpteenth time in the semi-dark I heard a familar, “Hola.” It was Antonio, the owner of Asdeporte who really was the reason that I was able to participate in this journey. I gave him a huge smile. “Antonio,” I said, my heart swelling with gratitude, “Thank you so much for this. You have no idea what an incredible journey this has been.” “Estas contenta?” he asked back calmly. Hardly being able to control the emotion in my voice, I told him,”Yes, very content.Thank you.”
I found my ironwoman pair, Paloma, and together we received hugs and we walked over to the busses where we were being carted for a new start to the swim (3100 meters with the current because of strong winds)…yessss!! I gave a hearty hug to the amazing cheerleaders and photographer, my mom, Vail, and Diane and headed off to the bus.
Having to pee so badly, I decided to exercise my it’s MY ironman- and-no rules- apply, found a tree in a not-so-secluded area before boarding the bus.
I followed Paloma into another bathroom after getting off the bus. The line was long and there were only two stalls. The countdown to 7 am was upon us and in both English and Spanish we pleaded with each other to please hurry…we were on the beach with 3 minutes to spare when I glanced up and saw Luisen, our coach. “LUIIIIISEEEEEEENN!!!” we shouted and he came running down to give us a huge hug and suddenly without me even realizing it the horn sounded and Paloma said, “Vamos juntos?”
And so along with 2,000 other red swimming caps at 7 am sharp we began the year-long-anticipated day. Swimming with the current, looking down at the coral reef where I could actually see the bottom was just like everyone said, beautiful.I found my space (among 2,000 swimmers not so easy) and settled into being a “snorkeler” telling myself to take it easy, breathe, I was going to be here for what I anticipated, about an hour and half.
I glanced up to make sure I was on track and heard a large booming microphone and realized that I didn’t see any buoys anymore…whaa? Oh my gosh, it’s the shore? I’m…done??? I raced with other swimmers (careful not to get kicked) clamored out of the water, and glanced down at my watch…51 MINUTES!! I tore off my swim cap, eyes wide, smile big, when I heard, “SAAARRAAAAHH!!” I glanced back and saw my friend Armando as he waved with his head and shouted, “VAMMOS!!”
I ran to get my bike bag, praying that I hadn’t forgotten to pack anything from the night before. I found a chair to put my things on, stripped out of my bathing suit (again the it’s-my-ironman-no-
rules-apply) and shimmied into my two piece tri-suit (including the ironman tri-top that my mom had purchased for me the day before). A woman shouted, “We did it!!” and a huge hollering went up in the tent. Volunteers lathered me up with sunblock and I grabbed my nutrition (nutella sandwich, honey stinger waffle, and gawd-knows how many gels) with one hand and my bike shoes with the other and ran awkwardly to my bike where I tried to fit all of my food into my bento box….had to leave some things behind…(there was an ironman who said if only 12 things go wrong during the event, you’re doing well). I counted this as one of the 12, cut my losses relieved for the cliff blocks and the knowledge that stations along the way would have gel.
And there I was. On the bike! Oh my gawd! I’m actually doing this!!! This is happening!! The cool thing about an ironman is that your race tag has your name and your country of origin (mine said, Sarah, Mexico City, United States)…and so as I was biking I heard, “Go Sarah!” and was confused for a second at who might know who I am especially from behind and then got excited that I could also root on total strangers by name! However, trying to read names and countries is a little difficult and so sometimes I would start out in English? no…Spanish? Portuguese?? Sorry, don’t speak French–
The first part of the course was awesome. Winds in our favor, going a steady 30-32km an hour, paying attention to cadence at 90rpms a minute–and just so much fun. And then to the Punta Azul….the wind. The day before my coach and I had had a conversation about this. “And what are you going to do?” he said. The bike is not my strong point, and lots of learnings of surrender have been had while riding.
“Just sit in the wind and pedal, I guess. There’s nothing else TO do.”
And then we turned the corner again and oh, soo nice to have the wind behind us and pedaling at a normal pace again! We got into town and there were my faithful cheerleaders with their morracas as I heard, “Saaaraaah!!!” and gave them a huge smile and a thumbs up as I rounded the corner for lap number two.
I lost track of how far I had gone because I had failed to turn on my watch at the very start…(and then realized that that was the mistake, not that it wasn’t working, and with much relief turned it on). Your mind does start messing with you a little bit. And so at some point on the third lap I would ask a cyclist if he/she had clocked the distance and then depending if they were from the States or the rest of the world I would spend five minutes converting miles into kilometers or kilometers into miles and doing that again and again and again….something to keep my mind occupied.
I think it was at mile 70 (kilometer 105 or so) that I realized that I was going to finish the bike. That I could do another 42 miles…and even with the stupid wind (sorry) I was doing just fine. During the last lap, as I was settling into the wind once again, I thought about Endurance, my team.
I thought about my coaches. I remembered the first bike ride that I did with them. Frustrated by the hot sun, frustrated that I couldn’t keep up, and within seconds of expressing this frustration my coach said, “Smile! You can suffer if you want, but that’s not what this is about!” and I thought about the conversation with my coach the day before…and then I thought about what had been drilled into me since day one of joining that team. “What’s Endurance’s mantra?” I joked with Coach Edgar back in Mexico City after.
“What?” he asked back.
“Who told you that?” he asked with a twinkle in his eye. But it worked. Without worrying about speed (I knew pushing would waste my legs for the 42km run I had at the end) I just focused on that 90 rpms a minute, breathing, and smiling. As I rounded that final corner and pulled into town I saw my coach and my mom standing by the tent. “Heeeey!!” I greeted them. No stomach aches, totally hydrated, legs totally mobile. “How do you feel?” Luisen asked me. “Great!” and it was true! “Go put water on your feet in the tent.”
I asked volunteers for water for my feet and they asked if I wanted ice. “Yes!” I exclaimed. And so began the best five minute ice foot massage I have ever received in my life. I teared up and looked at the two women massaging my feet. “You guys are the best…” I told them in Spanish.
I got my run bag, put my visor on, and without socks, put on my already laced up sneakers to begin the last third of this journey. “What time is it?” I asked Luisen as I exited the tent. “Four o-clock.” Awesome. If I need 8 hours to finish this damn marathon, I can take 8 hours (not that it would take me that long). “Just keep moving!” he advised. Diane met me a few minutes into the run. “How you doing?” she asked. “Soooo goood!! Is it bad that I have this much energy right now?” “No,” she said. “Just go with it.”
“What did you guys do all day?” I asked her. And as she started to reveal the day I said, “Oh my gosh. A whole day has passed!” at which point it started to downpour and what a relief that was. We both started laughing. “Paloma’s about 40 minutes ahead of you.” she let me know. “You’ll see her as she comes this way.” She let me go as I ran my first lap of 7km (it was out and back three times) and as I came back for my second loop I started to panic just a tiny bit. In the distance I could hear the announcer shouting people’s names as they came over the finish line.
Because it’s a loop, I had to go all the way down past the screaming fans and then bypass the finish line and turn around again. Crowds and loud music put me in a panic anyway, and knowing that that those cheers were not for me yet made me panic just a little bit more. I wanted to yell, “Stop cheering! not yet!” and as I rounded for my second lap I heard my mom and Diane talking. I shouted to them,but they didn’t hear me. At that moment I needed a little bit of love so badly that for the third time I applied the who-cares-it’s-an-ironman and shouted their names until they turned around and said, “Gooo!” I felt much better and continued my run.
As I Paloma and I passed each other I saw the determined and tired look on her face. “How are you?” she asked. “I’m good!” I responded, and it was true. At some point during the run, however, I had taken a small pink pill, unaware of what it was…and all the sudden started to feel a little dizzy.[turns out it was a muscle relaxer] Focus, breathe. Eat a banana. What-number-of-things-that-go-wrong were we on?
Coming back after the second loop was a little easier, although a small pain on the bottom of my feet started to develop and I pushed the thought of shit-I-should’ve-worn-socks- those-are-big blisters out of my mind. How-many-things-wrong were we up to now? My coaches caught me on the last loop, and Luisen instructed Mike to run with me as he continued with Paloma.
“How are you?” he asked. And true to form, yes, tired, sore muscles, yes, but knowing I was going to finish strong, I said, “I’m really good!”
“You look good!” he said as we continued along our way. We ran in silence for awhile (passing people sitting on the sidewalk, or seeing people with a shaking hand reach down to pick up their gel) and others who were in good spirits, passing the tents of music in which I said again tearing up, “you guys are the best!” at which they saluted me with their beers and shots of tequila offering me a hearty “vamos!”
I know this entry is long already. I’m applying once again it’s-my-ironman- and I can do what I want rule. And so I will pause to say this: as a competitor I knew I was getting myself into a long, hard day that would be both mentally and physically challenging. Volunteers and cheerleaders….well they almost have a harder job!–standing out there for fifteen or so hours simply because they love their friends and their family. That does not go unnoticed, and as I told my colleagues at work, when my legs did not want to move anymore it was all of you, all of your amazing kindness and words of support and wisdom and goofiness that kept me going…
My pace had slowed so much that Mike at one point started walking beside me. I laughed. “I’m going so slow you can walk!” “No, no,” he said, and started running again. He had brought his iphone with him. And for all of his making-fun-of-my-singing he very sneakily, put on a song that we both like. “Just one song,” he said when it was over. “Okay,” I said. “Thanks.” and then started humming to get me started singing of which I couldn’t help of course, but entertain.
The pier came into view and I knew for sure I was going to finish. I told Mike, “I’m not doing another loop! I’m done!” He laughed and said, “Here, do you want an Endurance shirt with which to cross the finish line?” I nodded yes and somehow
found the fine motor skills to put on another shirt. As I got closer, the cheers got louder. My eyes got wider, and I thought, “Holy shit! I really am going to finish!”
The sides were lined with people and hands to slap, and somehow even with the blisters and the crazy sore quads I found it in me to find some speed and slapping hands sped across that finish line to hear….”Sarah….con Endurance! Tu eres…un Ironman!”
I was greeted with a medal and a towel. Hardly being able to speak, a woman from the medical tent came up to me. “Congratulations!” I nodded a yes in thanks. “How you feeling?” I nodded yes. “Do you need anything?” I nodded no. “Do you speak English?” I laughed and nodded yes. So overwhelmed with emotion words failed me. I found my mom and Diane, the coaches, and Paloma.
The rest…is in the pictures.
The aftermath is a whole different story and for a different entry. For now I will say, this was a journey about what people say it’s about: testing my limits and going beyond what I think is possible. But even more than that: this was a journey in learning to open myself to the abundance of love,
taking that love giving it to myself and shining that onto others.
So, thank you for shining in your light. Thank you for making it possible for me to shine in mine.