Friday, February 24, 2012

The Black Line Leads Me Home

Ironman Race Report - 6 May 2011

It's dark. I'm running up the finish chute and suddenly my tyre blows out. How can that be I open my eyes and look at the clock on my bedside table. 2.30am ugh! One and a half hours til it's time to get up and start my day and I am not really sleeping. Just running through every possible crazy scenario trying to predict how the day will unfold. Resigned to the fact that I am not going to sleep I concentrate on keeping my mind and body still.
Beep beep beep and the trill of my alarm goes off. Its 4am. I must have finally drifted off. I thought I would be drained from lack of sleep. But I am awake. It is MY DAY!
My stomach isn't awake yet though and I push half an English muffin and jam down my throat and drain a coffee in one gulp. Dressed in my green outfit, including matching green nail polish, yes I am a girl after all, I stand ready, waiting.
We arrive at the transition area. There is a hive of activity. A stream of athletes and their supporters flow into the area and I join the wave mindlessly following the legs in front of me. I find my trusty steed resting where I had left it the day before. Race wheels on my little bike looks the part, dangerous in fact. Intimidation is part of the game and when your bike is dressed to kill you can shatter your opponents without even a glance. But today wasn't about racing and annihilating the opposition. Today was about survival, a possible 17 hours of pain. I finished prepping my bike and headed to find my training buddy who was already pulling on his wetsuit.
I found a gap in the crowd and as I balanced precariously on one leg heaving on the rubber, another triathlete struck up a conversation with me. Are you nervous? he inquires. Is he serious? Hell yes! Why? he asks. Well it's my first Ironman event so I am nervous. Why? he demands. If you have been true to your training then there is no way you should be nervous. It's just another training day. I think harder for a moment about what it truly is that has my stomach twisting in knots. After deliberation I realise it's really not nerves I have. I smile and announce triumphantly....I am not nervous really, I am full on adrenalin. It's the excitement of the event and I can't wait to get it started.  I look at this stranger dressed like a baby seal. Good girl! he states. You will have a wonderful day. All the best. And he dissolves into the Malay.
We stand together all of us with one thing in common. I scan the crowd searching for familiar faces. I have so many supporters including husband, family, friends, training buddies and Coach anxiously waiting for me to come home safely to them. I find my best friend just as I am about to enter the water. She is crying tears of pride for me. She gives me a huge bear hug and sends me off into the blue.
The water is warm, I turn my legs over warming them up more than for floatation. My wetsuit takes care of that for me. There are now 1500 competitors in the water, little red caps dot the water. I spin round slowly scanning the shore line looking for four white shirts, my family. No luck I turn my attention to the crowd and the swim course in front of me. The cannon sets us free.

I ease into the swim not going to hard avoiding the scary hyperventilating that I have felt in previous more intense races. Luckily I find clear water and concentrate on my form. We round buoy after buoy with one particular tricky navigation issue for some as lifeguards on kayaks with whistles screeching direct the swimmers around an oyster encrusted buoy. The washing machine was on full spin. I watched from a safe distance as swimmers were dragged under repeatedly and told myself my decision to go wide to avoid the crowds was a wise one.
Finally the supporters on shore were in sight and I kicked the legs a little harder to get them ready for the bike. My finger tips brushed the carpet protecting our feet from the concrete ramp. Once, twice, ok time to stand up and run. I looked up as I passed through the fresh water spray. The time read 1:09:46 a P.B. I can't believe my eyes. No time to celebrate as I run comfortably through transition 1. I ran into the change tent and volunteers direct me to an empty chair. They were wonderful, they dumped my gear and set it up on the floor so I could easily access everything while I wiped my face dry with a face towel.
I run out along the red carpet towards my bike. I spy my family then waiting for me behind the fence. A high 5 for bro and his fiancé and a kiss for mum through the wire mesh and a wave at dad who is working the video camera and in 3.38mins I am away on the bike.
My mind is talking to me making sure I don't get caught up in the excitement as other bike riders race away in front of me. My race plan was to take the first 45kms easy, concentrate on getting my nutrition in and settle into the day. Also the weather bureau had announced that the wind was from the south south west and that it would pick up throughout the day. So it would be a work out each time and a faster ride home. The course is hilly for the first 10kms, another reason not to go hard from the jump. There is no point in going lactate at this point as anything I put in here will come back to bite me in the run and the run, for me, is the unknown.

The course levels out for 15kms. It's a time trial. Get down in the tri-bars and dial in the legs to churn over and cover the ground. Pain! Ok what's happening? It's a stitch. A cramp courses through my stomach and is steadily increasing with each mile. It moves into my back making breathing difficult. I stop taking on fluid for a while waiting for my stomach to drain a little. I had drunk a lot of sea water. Again my brain kicks into life and tells me to ease on the nutrition and wait. I panic as my race plan already seems to be coming undone, but my sensible voice assures me that to wait will pay off.
A quick toilet stop and a stretch and the pain eases. OK Sammi, get back to work. I hit the turn-around point and the wind is now at my back. My 85mm deep race wheels now act as sails as I am pushed along. The carbon whoosh increases the feeling of flying and my effort increases on the 45kms homeward.
At the 80km point there is a hill. Not just any hill. It's a tough one. Even for the men it is a gruelling grind. Matthews Drive is a 300metre climb. It has a run up but once the momentum is lost the hard work starts. Halfway up there is a kick that forces the rider to work even harder just as their energy is all but depleted. Once over the lip the hill eases again. But the lip beats so many. As this obstacle appears twice on the ride, my race plan was to err on the side of keeping as much energy as I could and hop off my bike and walk the hill. I am not the only one. As I make my first approach I spy others already dismounted and pushing their rides up the hill. I take the opportunity to stretch. My best friend is there panic on her face. I reassure her that this is my strategy and I am ok. This strategy pays off later when I return at the 170km mark and I hear that scores of people have literally fallen victim to the hill and hurt themselves badly. They now carry this pain into the run.
I find myself back in town with people calling my name from the crowd. GO SAMMI! They echo as I head once more back into the wind which is now breathing even harder into my face. It's a hard ride no doubt. But I am not fazed. I imagine it is my Saturday ride and we are simply heading for home from the sea cliff bridge. My mind once more reassures me that I have done harder than this before. I can do this again.
Finally once more at the turn-around point I head for home and as the wind places a firm hand on my back and pushes my tired body home I am filled with a sense of relief. This ride has been hard yet comfortable I still have strength in my legs. After 7:06:03 it is time to run.
Back in transition I quickly change (5.20mins) into my run gear and I thank, once again, the volunteers and hit the tarmac. Lap 1 of 4. This is the unknown; I have never run a marathon before. Not even in training. But I have run 21kms before my mind reminds me, so let's get it done. I head out along the break wall. A long concrete path lined with giant concrete blocks that holds the Hastings River in its place. My race goal here was to run and not walk the break wall. My other aim was to make sure I walked through each aid station to ensure my fluid and nutrition intake was sound. Other than that, the rest was going to be improvised.
sam run.jpg
1 lap down and still feeling strong. One black band sits triumphantly on my wrist. Booyargh Sammi. Lap 2 the legs continue to tick over and I am wearing two black bands. Toilet stops indicate that I am on track with my fluid intake. Friends call their support as I pass by. Children lean out from the crowd hoping for a sweaty, sticky high-5. The day is closing but I am still running. My run is broken up by brief periods of fast walking. Years of yomping (running to a telegraph pole, walking to the next telegraph pole) when I first started to run pay dividends now. As the sun calls it a day and darkness dominates, many runners find it difficult to run again once walking claims them. My mind again calls out to me. Its lap 3 it is time to dig deep. Not quite home but over half way. Further than any Sammi has run before. I have been saving something special for this lap. Coke! My race plan was to save this special treat until the 3rd lap. You deserve it Sammi. Flat Coke. I hate Coke normally but the energy boost you gain from the sugar hit is certainly worth the difficult swallow. As I run down the hill through town my coach appears in the crowd. He is running, beer in hand next to me. His face is a mix of pride and adulation. I have seen that look before but this time the look is there for me. I am lifted again to another place. Realisation, my coach knows I will finish this race strong. I know I will finish this race now too. He hugs me and sends me out onto my last lap.
It's so quiet. People are walking or running slowly in silence. It is so dark I am reduced to only running where the street lights show the road. I can hear Mike Reilly calling people's names as they cross the finish line. The names are a babble but the YOU ARE AN IRONMAN is as clear as a bell. I am at the final turn around point. Across the water the sounds of Mike's voice call me home. I pass a volunteer who asks me what lap I am on. I triumphantly announce that it is my last lap and show him my three black bands. I look down and there is a sign that says 40kms. I inquire Is that sign correct? Yep the volunteer responds and for the first time today I look at the watch I had set on my wrist so long ago. I had 2.2kms to run and 40minutes would see me home under 14 hours. The math ticking over in my head I pick up my pace. I can do this!
At the last aid station I discard my jacket. It was a cheap one I had bought that would now go to charity. One last shot of energy GU and I turn the little pony's head for home. The pace quickens I am wearing my final green band. I cannot believe that my body has carried me this far. My legs burn, knees are aching, inner thighs cramping, feet burning as nerves are trounced into the road. I don't feel anything now. The rush is about to begin. Through the darkness I hear Mike calling me. I want him to say it. I want him to say my name!
The brilliant light hits my face with a welcome slap. The kaleidoscope of colour is mind blowing as neon lights, banners, and supporters faces dance in front of my eyes. I can hear the individual voices of my family and friends from among the single voice of the crowd. My best friend steps out from the crowd and I run into her arms. My legs don't want to stop however and I look up at the time. I gotta go I shout and she sends me on my way. Suddenly fierce, I run for the line.
This line that I have chased for a year, the black line I have gobbled up greedily for so long, that has stretched itself across the miles, along the bottom of the pool, over hills, along countless miles of road. It finishes finally with a single line on the ground. I look up and above me Mike is smiling from the commentary box. All I need do is step over it and I am home. Say the words Mike! Say them! I watch as he opens his mouth to speak. His eyes never leave mine. He says the words I have spent a year training for and 13:50:46 of sweat and determination to hear.
Samantha Bowden YOU ARE AN IRONMAN! And I step over the line.......

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