||Ironman Brazil 2005
Brazil Telecom Ironman in Florianopolis, Brazil is a great race. As far as Ironmans go, I have nothing to compare it to--this was my first one. I had previously raced halfs in Pucon, Chile; St. Croix, U.S.V.I.; at Ralph's Oceanside, Wildflower and Vineman-- so I have some basis for comparison as far as race organization goes, but I never crossed the finish at a half feeling particularly unsatiated. Why I decided to do Ironman is simply because I could. I live in a good training climate, was not pregnant, and have a passion for triathlon. Short on New Year's resolutions, I signed up for the race (I hope this doesn't happen to you!) I felt relieved: The idea of doing an Ironman had plagued me for two years.
The race director and organization of the race left me with no complaints--we even got our special needs bags back (I hear this isn't always the case at some races), we were given at least two nice shirts signifying the race, and the food on the course was good-- all the normal stuff plus nice soup and some cakes.
I knew I made the right decision when I picked Brazil. I figured if I'm doing an Ironman, it may as well NOT be North America. Obviously, this logic does not work for everybody, but if you are on the fence about picking a far-away race, I say go for it--you will not be disappointed! You will meet the coolest people from all over the world (I met racers from Estonia, Lebannon, Canada, and Belgium), and there is a ton of comraderie (you will get to know them and keep in touch). As far as racing goes, you are going to have to pack up all your crap and go somewhere plus spend some money anyway. (Did I mention I stayed in a hotel at Wildflower--training weekends, too?)
In the words of pro-veteran triathlete Ken Glah (who I got to know in Pucon), "This is a good excuse to [really] go somewhere." Sometimes triathletes need excuses. Besides, these international-destination races are easier to get into so you don't have to plan as far out in advance--I was a bit Ironman-commitment phobic so this worked for me.
"I didn't come all the way to (fill in the blank) in my case, Brazil, to not finish the race!" is motivating during some of the sketchier periods one might encounter during an Ironman. That being said, good luck with whatever choices you make, but if you pick Brazil you will not be sorry--it is beautiful, economical, and friendly.
Brazil is known as a good race for first timers because the course is relatively easy--less some current on the swim and some headwind on the bike and some hills on the run...hey, it's Ironman!
Here's my story:
Ironman is such a fabulous metaphor for life in the sense that so many times neither turn out how you might expect. I didn't have a lot of expectations about time--they say the beauty of the first time is having the simple goal of finishing. This is a noble goal and noboby will question it.
At the swim start I put myself to the right and back so I would be protected from other swimmers and the current. This was a no-stress strategy. I actually felt fine at the start--not too nervous or anything. I had raced a lot early season and this had helped my confidence. This year the course was M-shaped so all you had to do was swim out twice to two different buoys--each marked by a boat. It was pretty straight-forward and you could even put your feet on the ground between loops and get a sip of fresh water. Mentally this was comforting.
Physically I found it challenging. Maybe double master's practices weren't the best preparation. Prior to the race I had visualized myself during the Ironman swim gliding through the water thinking, "Wow, I'm doing an Ironman!" Even though I had the ability to swim 4000 meters this is not the experience I had during the swim. What happened instead is that the swim was rough, choppy, and the currents got increasingly stronger as I got increasingly tired. I struggled to get near people and to sight properly even though I had practiced drafting and sighting and swimming in the ocean. The "Now THIS is Ironman!" moment that I had heard about happening on Mile 80 of the bike or the 2nd half of the run happened for me as I rounded the last buoy at 3000 meters with a quarter of the swim to go. Yikes!
I don't know what this says about my swimming, but I settled in behind a guy who was swimming like a boat with a broken propeller. Glad for the company, I strained for the shore with my body and my eyes and eventually I got there: the ocean spit me out at 1:45.
In transition I complained, "that was SO hard!" to race volunteers trying to enlist their sympathy, but they did not speak English (Portuguese) so I sucked it up and headed out on the bike.
Again, not what I expected. I heard that you really will feel good on the bike because the swim and your taper is behind you. I felt awful. I have never felt awful going onto the bike. It took me approximately 1.5 hours to recover from the swim. I stopped several times to visit amazingly unused port-o-potties (when does this ever happen in a race?) and actually sat down in them. People had encouraged me to "eat more" before the race and I had--something that does not work for me--especially carby white foods. Well, at least I was finally going...(sorry!)
I kept a moderate pace on the bike as I headed through a tunnel and then a quick easy trip out to the turn around and then the wind was so strong it was almost pushing the bike over. I focused on keeping the front end straight fearing if there was a break in my streamlining, I would go over. I guess I didn't mind so much as I had ridden on PCH to "The Rock" a lot in training and experienced similar conditions. This is right where, on my second trip back, I witnessed a guy quitting. He just pulled over to the side of the road and sat down. There really was no respite. I was on the bike for eight hours.
Maybe it's me, but the last 25 miles of the race seemed a little long. It was dark (it is nearing winter in Brazil in May), and I wore a long sleeve shirt. At 7:00 PM I had been on the course for twelve hours with half the marathon ahead of me. It was a little discouraging. I did have some broth and pepsi which my coach said to take as a form of damage control. I could feel it get absorbed by my body. He also told me that Ironman was fatiguing and that it didn't hurt the way a marathon alone could. He was right. I was so fatigued--and more mentally than physically. I kind of lost it. There were other people out there with me and we banded together at various times under the stars. I was alone a lot, too. I told myself I would finish because I didn't want to live with a DNF--trying to explain that to everybody would be unbearable. I would finish, and that would ensure that if I didn't want to do another one again, I wouldn't have to. I told myself, "You are a good person--no matter what you do--whether you finish this race or not, no matter what you have ever done, no matter what you ever do." I had no idea before I spent 6 hours running/walking a marathon that I had that kind of assumption about myself.>br>
I was walking--and on a certain level I had had enough. So many of my friends had finished a long time ago. I'm sure they didn't have time to look in the mirror so deeply. I could only hope that the space beween me and the line would diminish. It felt hopeless. I was kind of broken, but I was not injured.
There was a lady in front of me whose husband was riding his bike next to her. I thought, "that must be nice," even though her state even with the support wasn't any better than mine. And then from ahead appeared another man on a bike. It was Eddy, a Belgian racer and friend of mine, who had finished his own race and came back for me. It was amazing! He told me to start running, or I wouldn't make the cut-off. I didn't argue with him even though I had calculated that I would make it by walking in. The last 5k was heaven with him by my side---OK it helped that he is gorgeous (I can admit that), but for me an independent woman at 34 years of age, I realized that I had to go 135 miles to be in a place where I could appreciate how nice it was to have somebody be there for me. And that is a lesson I will never forget.
I was drawn to Ironman in the first place because I thought it held a special secret that only Ironman finishers could know. It would be revealed to me at the finish line. The path to the finish line was not glamous as I had imagined. Nobody cared. Not even me. There weren't the crowds. It was late and not Kona. Many racers came with their families, finished, and went back to their hotels. (Nothing ever happened with Eddy--not even a kiss goodbye, FYI)
After the race I went to Ken Glah's hospitality house. I ate some food. I told Ken, "I'm not cut out for this!" He said, "Oh, but you are!" I was so tired when I got back to my room that I laid on the bed--I was past my level of nasty---gathering the strength to shower. Later, when I went to sleep, my body was still humming like a car that had been driven all day. The next day I was basically fine except for queasiness at the sight of the course. I could not bear to look at the hills of the run course even from my seat on the shuttle bus.
As soon as the nightmares about the race stopped, I was able to enjoy actually wearing the t-shirt. The medal is safe under my pillow. I took it out a lot over the summer as a visual aid to my bragging.
They say that Ironman is personal, that you have to race your own race, that it's all in the training, that it all comes down to the day. They say if you feel isolated, that is Ironman. They say the first one is the best one. They say the best part is the finish. They say it's the comraderie. They say it's a lot of things. I know that I have said a lot. But mostly, I can tell you that it is mine--an experience so personal--so unpredictable yet so telling. If you do one, it will be yours, and you will be glad. The more time that goes by, the more it sinks in, what I did, the happier I am! That is my Ironman. I might even do another one...(to be continued)