It’s the night before the big race; Ironman Arizona 2015. I do my normal routine, stay off my legs, eat dinner and take a hot shower hoping it will give me some rest as I usually do not sleep well the night before I race. My 3rd Ironman in three years; 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike and 26.2 run. A journey of a thousand miles begins with one single step. I am stronger and more prepared than in the past, calm, and focused, I own my beginners mindset. Before lights out, I receive a text from Katie (my coach) wishing me luck and signs off her text with a simple word- Fight. Not to fight with others :) but to find the ‘fight’ within me; persevere, dig deep and to do the absolute best I can. Lights out. I toss and turn, thinking how it has taken a village to get me to the start line. I have had great support from family, friends, work colleagues, coach Katie, my incredible husband, Daniel, the girls from my cycling team, all the friends and long training rides; yup, it takes a village to get me to tomorrow's start line. But that village won't get me to the finish, it will take ‘just me’ to cross that finish line- fight.
Rise and shine, Daniel and I awake, prepare for the big day making our power oatmeal and turbo coffee. Tired from the sleepless night, we are both in our zone getting ready, physically and mentally for whatever is thrown our way. Swim like the boat sunk, bike like you stole it and run for your life.
Prior to any race, I like to envision an 'ideal' race day with stellar conditions; low winds, low heat, no flat tires, no cramping, good nutrition and fueling and no mental demons creeping up on me around mile 100. Either ignorance truly is bliss or my strategy to make myself believe in the best does work. Although I envision and hope for ideal conditions, I have yet to experience a race with just that. I have battled races in 94 degrees with 97% humidity (IM Texas), IM Boulder with wind, heat and the dry mountain air. I have raced eleven 70.3 IM races (1.2 swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run) in which I have had a mix of weather; I continue to wait for 'that' day, although I know it is rare that it may never come but belief, hope and training hard have worked for me thus far. I assume weather wise that the winds in Arizona will be my greatest challenge on the bike. I train all year round in Boulder, high elevation and lots of wind, this is a good course for me.
I am standing along the waterfront with Daniel, we feel the cold breeze and put on our wetsuits. It's announced that the temps are at 63 degrees. I say goodbye to Daniel as he's going with the speedy swimmers aiming for under a 1:10 swim and I go with the group for 1:30 swim.
There are a total of 2,684 athletes racing (766 are women- 28.5%.) with three corrals/waves of about 800+ people leaving together to swim the 2.4 mile swim. We are not doing an 'in the water' start yet walking to the end of the pier and jumping in, one by one. In this long canal like lake, it's crowded. I get swimmed over, under, elbowed, dunked and had my first good kick in the face, in the left eye over my goggles. I swallow water and remain calm. This isn't my first time to this rodeo and know what I need to do. I continue on, find my line, strike, pull, repeat. I don't feel the cold temps, my ears and head are well protected and I feel good. I am in no rush, I pace myself as I know I have a long day ahead, the swim is my warm-up.
I round the bend of the final bouy and see the end of the swim, I am psyched as my favorite leg of triathlon is coming up, the bike! I look up and see lots of clouds and can’t see the Arizona sunshine. Onward.
I run into the transition zone 1 tent and amazing volunteers are there to greet me and help me prep for the next leg of the race, the bike. They help dry my feet and get my cycling gear ready to roll. I quickly get on my socks, shoes and helmet and off I go and another volunteer hands over “Sisa” (flower in Kichwa) my bike, to embark on my 112 mile journey.
Ready and prepared, there are strong winds but nothing out of this world. The course is made up of 3 loops with 18 miles of a false flat out and 18 miles back into town with 2,600+ athletes. Not ideal for a bike race course. I have a headwind on the 18 miles out towards the mountains. I pace myself and watch my speed and cadence knowing, whatever I do will need to be sustained for 112 miles. I hold back so I don't burn all my matches. It begins to drizzle, then rain, then rains even harder. As the rain comes down harder, my helmet and sunglass shield are covered. Onward. I was a mountaineer for many years and learned a lot about resilience and finding my inner grit when weather and conditions turned sketch. This comes back into play today during my time trial rain storm ride. Fight, you’ve got this. I repeat a few more times fight and round the bend and see a very bad crash. An athlete down, face front and I am scared. Then four more people on the side of the road changing flat tires. Another crash… It's slippery. I have to be cautious, it’s never worth taking unnecessary risks, come on people we're not at the freakin' Olympics, calm it!
I think, this isn't an Ironman, it's the IronCircus; 2,684 athletes on one out and back bike course, drafting like I have never seen before. It's upsetting to see the amount of drafting and what people will do to get ahead, try to gain an unfair advantage to shave time and save energy. I saw very few penalties being given as there are 109 professional athletes racing and the race officials are more focused on the pros and giving out penalties but not the age grouper athletes. Not good IMAZ, not good at all. It's tough to pass people and gets slippery and dangerous with the wet conditions. I am riding and one guy passes me and says “Look behind you, did you know you are pulling a chain of five guys behind you?" I look back and see five men drafting off my wheel. Ugh! I decide to focus on how strong I am that I am pulling the chain of cyclists up the false flat into a head wind with rain.
I make it to my3rd and final lap; I am at mile 72 ready to do 36 more to reach 112; the race has not even begun. Riding through the rain, I see my friend Farnoosh; running and screaming my name, so excited and uplifted. I get these mental playlists of songs that come to mind while racing, David Bowie's song Life on Mars comes to mind. Yes, Life on Mars as after swimming 2.4 miles in cold 63 degree temps and getting pummeled in the water and the cold temps, rain and wind while wearing a tiny little race kit on the bike. You are alone, in your own head and even though time goes by rather quickly it can be a long, day especially on different legs of the bike and run. I begin to shiver- Fight.
I usually battle most of my demons at the beginning of my races, by mile 80 my inner badass shows up and my insecurities dissolve, my determination and confidence are on an upswing. Another song is in my head, the lyrics of Ani DiFranco's 'Not so Soft,' repeats as I push my cadence against the wind and rain- I always wanted to be commander in chief of my one woman army. I repeat this over and over and become more comfortable being uncomfortable. Fight.
I see a rainbow, I think the storm is over. I pass a few riders and shout "The storm is over, look at the rainbow." I get a few grunts and no excitement. My own excitement lasts another 2 miles as the storm hits again, it's raining harder. I look up and see the 100 mile mark, I smile, soaking wet, and cold and know, it time to bring this home. I pick up my cadence, and begin to spin more to prepare my legs for the run.
I hand over my bike to the volunteers, and run off the bike enthusiastic for the run. It’s still cold, wet and raining. The volunteers give me an emergency blanket which I begin to run with. I find my legs and get them under me. I take off strong with a off fantastic 10k at 58 minutes, get my stride, find my pace and feel the oxygen in Tempe, Arizona. I am on target for a 4:30 marathon which was my goal. I notice my stomach was burning and hunger is kicking in. It’s raining again and I was getting cold and then colder. Fight. I am dizzy and not sure what’s going on as I havent had this happen before. My stomach was burning and my blood sugar feels like it is plummeting. Ugh. I take in a gel, run another 2 miles at pace. I feel it again, I am shivering and dizzy. WTF, this hadn't happened during any training runs? I dont want to ask the volunteers for help because I am afraid they could pull me from the race if they know what’s going on. I continue, 2 more miles. I begin to walk as I am real dizzy now. I see one volunteer and I decide to communicate. She asks "What do you need? We have gels, chomps, coke, red bull, hot chicken broth, pretzels and water. What do you need?” I ask if she has any high octane mental strength as I am feeling depleted. She tells me my lips are blue and asks if I am ok? I tell her I am cold, real cold. Other volunteers gather, they think I have the onset of hypothermia. Two of them say “Come lets go sit down.” I knew what was going on and know if I sit, I am done for today, it will end now. I know I can’t sit after racing 130 miles, my body will not allow me to get back up.
I make a counteroffer- “Walk with me.” This volunteer 'Liz' does and grabs me some hot chicken broth. She offers me her jacket to warm up, I accept. We walk together on the course for 5 minutes. The salts of the hot broth are kicking in and working. I am warming up with the soup and jacket and the fact that I am walking and not sitting, I am moving and staying warm. I thank Liz, “You are a lifesaver, here, take your jacket back, I can continue, I will slow my pace but can go." Liz looks at me snd says “Run." I begin to take off the jacket and she repeats “Run!” "What? I need to give you your jacket back." Liz says “It’s your’s, you’ll need it, RUN!” I start to tear up, thinking with all the terrible things going on in the world, how humanity is GOOD and how can this total stranger take the jacket off her back for me? She yells again RUN, I will find you and find my jacket later!! The volunteers are such special, kind people who just take such great care of the athletes. It’s raining, it’s cold, it’s getting darker and they are there. I need to volunteer more, I race so much, I must give back 'more' in 2016.
The next song on my mental playlist ‘Hey soul sister’ by Train comes to mind; that was my song with a close friend Marilyn who passed away from breast cancer. I run through the pain, I think of her, my throat tightens as I get sad, but push through. I remember when we climbed a peak together in Ecuador, I then think of spreading her ashes a few years later in the Andes. I drop my head, push through the physical and emotional pain… I begin to run for her, she struggled so much more than me in this moment- RUN.
I get my mojo back and continue to take in small sips of chicken broth at every other aid station alternating with shots of red bull. Yeah, my body is not happy with me but it’s helping. I run and meet a new friend Pedro from Mexico, we pace eachother for another 5 miles and I let him tell me stories to keep my mind off my issues and focused on his stories of racing IM in other places.
I round the bend, it’s getting dark out, it’s still raining and cold. I hear my name being screamed and cheers “Dana,” and I keep going. I look up and one of my AmeriCorps volunteers chases me down with inspirational signs she and the team of volunteers made me for the race. It’s such a surprise and again, I think “there’s so much good’ out there. She sees how wet and cold and I am and too asks if she can lend me her jacket, I thank her and say no and run off into the night.
The run consists of 2 laps of 13 miles, after one long loop, you wait for the 2nd but when approaching it there’s a fork in the road; one arrow shows ‘must do another lap” with an arrow to the left and the other arrow points to the right skating “FINISH.” I am at that fork with the 'rights to passage' to the finish line. Only I can get myself to the finish line. A lot of emotion hits as I run that path; the crowds are screaming, my legs are screaming and my head is screaming FIGHT ‘til the finish.
I run the final yards seeing the finish line and the rain coming down in the bright lights. I reflect during those final steps on the end of this journey. That I will cross the finish line having completed 140.6 miles in 13:30 hours. That I will finish mentally strong. I take a moment, Remember Why You Started, Break Trail, Break Gender Boundaries, You Only Live Once, Fight, Pedal, Run- all that has gotten me this far- to the finish line- thank you. I hear the announcer say Dana Platin from Denver and Ecuador- You are an Ironman.
I cross the finish line and think IM commander in chief of my one woman army...