Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Finish Line

(I would like to apologize in advance for the horrible formatting on this post.  I have no idea why I can't do what I used to be able to but I'm tired of fighting with it. LOL)

Well, the day finally came and went....and what a day it was!

I left for New Zealand Sunday February 23rd and arrived there one accidentally free Sky Couch seat and $350 in extra baggage fees later on Tuesday morning February 25th.  My Mom and friend Carol were on the flight with me.  We had rented a van for the first 10 days or so of our trip as we figured it was cheaper for my bike box once we were in the country and it would also allow us to sight-see the country on the 3+ hour drive from Auckland to Lake Taupo.

At the Avis line waiting to get our van.
Let's just face it, our van was badass:

We survived the drive on the wrong side of the road to Tui House in Taupo.  It was old but 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, private courtyard, and about a stone's throw from the lake.  It was awesome!
Tui House
We had 3 full days and four sleeps before the race and that turned out to be a perfect amount to acclimate to the time change, the fact that it was now the end of summer instead of mid-winter, and that I had a huge race on that Saturday.

Practice swim in the Lake a few days before the race.  The water was completely clear and perfect temp for wetsuit swimming!!
The day before the race I got to go to the tiny little Taupo airport and pick up Chris.  It was soooo good to see him, he always calms me down.

My one complaint, besides not enough aid stations on the run course, was the fact that athlete check-in occurred one day and one day only.  This makes for long lines.  Not fun!  Ok, so it was still fun and exciting and I got these awesome dorky pics while doing it!:
Sign your life away

The asian bracelet lady got right in on the fun pics:)
Bracelet is officially on!

All athletes sign the flag

Nope, no stuff required for an Ironman

Maybe I need help now....

After waking up every single hour, my alarm finally goes off around 0430.  I feel sick to my stomach, am already crying from nerves, and am trying to figure out how I'm going to eat a bagel with peanut butter when all I want to do is throw up.  It's just another long training day...with aid stations  I tell myself, but it's a big deal still because of all the things that can go wrong to keep you from getting to that finish line.  I know, you're not suppose to think about these things but you really can't help it. 18 months of blood, sweat, tears, and sacrifice, plus thousands of miles and dollars spent and I am sure as hell not going home without hearing Mike Reilly at the finish!
I was ready to puke
I had checked everything in with me the day before so all I had to bring down to the race that morning were all my special needs bags, water bottles to fill my bike up, and my swim bag that I could put my dry clothes in to get back at the finish line.  It was chilly out and shaking but I think most of that was nerves.  We walked the ten minutes to the town center and transition and I dropped everything for the bike and headed down to the water.
Chris and I walking to the swim start.

The native people of New Zealand, the Maori's, did a pre-race/swim ceremony to bless the water for safe passage.  It is a sacred place to them and they allow the Ironman race every year to use it.  It was very cool and took my mind off of what was coming in next next 30 minutes.  I said goodbye to everyone and went down the chute to get in the water and acclimate myself to it so the cold on my face wouldn't be such a shock when the race started.
One last good luck hug!
Now, placing yourself in a good position at the swim start is honestly the hardest part of the race, bar keeping yourself from puking before it begins.  New Zealand and the other international Ironman races have not yet adopted the seeded swim start like it's North American counterparts so it is still a "washing machine" when the gun (in this case, cannon) goes off at 7am.  It was a simple one-loop swim course but the buoys were super tiny and not the giant large inflatable triangles we are used to seeing in the states as lane and course markers.  Most people seemed to be staying towards the beach and shallow area where they could stand so I made my way out to the farther spot from the beach that put you in line with the buoys.  Surpisingly, this was the most direct route and the route that had the fewest people too.  Score!  I just swam around with my face in the water for about 20 minutes, mentally telling myself over and over that it's just a big group swim....cause those are so much fun. Ha!  One of the huge perks to this course is that Lake Taupo is so incredibly clear that you can see the bottom and everything on it. This helped as I just looked for things and kept my mind busy.  The loud speaker was not easily heard from my position so I only heard "One Minute!" and then the cannon went off and we were off!

Getting myself into the water before the start was the best thing I could've done for myself.  I started swimming straight for the first buoy and just told myself This is YOUR race.  Don't race anyone else.  Just keep swimming! (I seriously don't know how Disney and "Dorrie" haven't made a deal with Ironman yet:))
I'm about as far to the front of the line on the right as you could get.
I didn't really have any issues on the swim.  The buoys were so small and the splashing so great that I literally just followed splashing (not always the best idea if the person in front of you doesn't sight very often) but mainly the line of SUP'ers and kayak swim support people that were making a line to keep the two directions of swimming from crashing into each other.  They even made lots of noise and informed me when the turn buoy was coming up.  So helpful those volunteers:)  I got my goggles kicked off once so I had to stop to fix those.  Then that fix leaked so I had to stop again, but after that it was stroke, stroke, breathe, repeat.  I found old tires and golf balls and swim caps all over the bottom of the lake.  The swim caps were so freaking small mine barely stayed on my head, as evidenced by my "swim exit" picture.  LOL.  Either way, I made the swim in 1:25:00 and was super excited!
I told you it was a small swim cap
 Now T1 was about a 400+m run (thankfully they carpeted it all) from the marina and beach where we exited the swim up a hill and two flights of steps to the changing tents.  This being my first Ironman, it was also my first experience with a mass changing area and volunteers that do everything for you.  They take wetsuits off, dry you off, put sunscreen on you, unwrap nutrition items, dump your bag out so you can find stuff you need and then repack it when you are ready to go.  I actually hesitated when I got up because I was so out of my element I though I was forgetting something.  It really was too easy.

At this point, I run to find my bike third row from the end, directly down from the port-a-pottys, find my bike, everything is in place, and take off running for the bike exit.  At this point I'm starting to get chilly because the air is still cold even though the sun is warm and I'm soaking wet.  

Time to ride!

The bike course was a 2 loop ride that took you inland away from the lake, past a bunch of cows who looked at you like WTF? and then back into town again to then start over.  It was an awesome course in that it had just enough hills and downhill to not feel like you were doing too much of either.  The hills were the first 4-6 miles and then again the last 8-10 miles of the loop back before you hit the downhill into town again.  I was averaging about 18 mph on the first outward and felt awesome.  The apparent headwind and downhill were a great combo to make my confidence go up.  As SOON as we hit the turn-around out in Reporoa there was a WALL of wind that just hit you and made you go Uh Oh.  The sun was shining and it was a stunning day so I didn't mind, although the roads in New Zealand are just gravel with a thin seal so they are extremely rough and there was a 1.1km section of road that was not sealed and going over that FOUR times was a bit brutal.  I never actually got hot on the ride as, again, the air was cool even though the sun was warm.  At the end of the first loop I as starting to doubt myself.  The headwind was really strong and I knew what time I wanted to be off the bike by to give myself the best chance on the run course.  I was very happy to see bike special needs about 8 miles into the second loop as my legs were dead from that headwind and uphill.  I got off my bike for about 5 minutes, ate something, refilled my nutrition, hit the port-a-potty, and then took off again feeling refreshed.  Little did I know that even though I reapplied sunscreen twice it wouldn't be enough.  The second loop wasn't bad and the headwind had died down a little bit, but, like always, everyone and their mother passed me on the bike so I was surprised when I was on the return that there were still a few people behind me.
Chris and my Mom
Start of the second loop out of town

Shading each other while stalking me on the bike course

Someone's a fan!
On the second loop out of town.
I gotta hand it to my support crew, the bike was probably the hardest part to spectate as it was middle of the day so they were getting scalded by the sun, it took the longest amount of time, and they only got to see me a couple times.  Although they did pop up in way more places than most people's support crews!  Talk about an effort!

By the time I came back into town on the second lap, my butt and neck were extremely ready to get off the bike.  If I didn't have such a bad neck I would be much more tolerable of the pain from the ride.  I would much rather my legs hurt than my neck.  No amount of Biofreeze was helping me that day.

My butt was so happy to be off my bike!  I was so happy to be off my bike!  112 miles is a long way, but it honestly didn't feel any longer than some of my training rides and I never did 112!  This is where the silver lining to training inside ALL winter for an IRONMAN comes in handy....ANYTHING is better in comparison.

Now T2 at an Ironman is awesome because you get off your bike, hand it to a wonderful volunteer, and don't see it again until you pick it up.  Or in this case, your boyfriend picks it up for you with the freinds/family pick-up ticket and has it already back at the house before you are half-way done your marathon.  I grabbed my T2 bag from the volunteer in the line with my number in it (after 2/3's of the sports being done, it's much harder to discern your number from the categories and therefore find the correct aisle to run down to grab your T2 bag).  Turns out my blistering sunburn could be part of the reason I was having a hard time.

I sat down, went through the same routine as T1 (sans the wetsuit and being soaked), put on more sunscreen, hat, running shoes, body butter, grabbed my small water bottle and took off out of the tent to the port-a-potty (use it when you can and there's no line during an Ironman, I say) and then onto the run course.

Now what I failed to mention about the bike course is that they gave you these really brightly colored, thick hair elastics at the two turn around points as an indicator that you in fact went the entire distance, as well as reading off your numbers and having the timing mats placed accordingly.  This was not as difficult as you would imagine as you would have a volunteer standing in the roadway with the elastic as wide as they could get it and you would stick your arm through it as you went through.

They had these for the run as well but it was 3 loops instead of 2 and as I was starting out it was a little deflating to see so many people with one and two and three bands already on their arms.  They were way more done than I was.

The sun was still shining bright and my left knee hurt getting off the bike so my plan was to run 5 minutes and walk 1 so that I wouldn't go too much too fast, nor would I take advantage of walking.  When I left T2 I had 7 hours and 40 minutes to complete the 26.2 mile run I had ahead of me.  It was enough time that I could mentally relax because I knew I could do it even if I had to walk the entire way.

Julia, Chris, and Carol out on the run course

The first lap I did in a really decent time, I think averaging about 11 minute miles and then at around mile 10 or so I started to feel sick.  There was no way I was going to let myself throw up and have any officials or med staff see me for fear they might pull me off the course.  NO.FUCKING.WAY.
The run goes right long Lake Taupo and you wind up into a neighborhood, around to the three chutes that are labeled "1st lap" "2nd lap" and "3rd lap" respectively (as you also curse those ahead of you) and then back again.  I got to see my AMAZING support crew of my Mom, Chris, Carol, and Julia so many times it was awesome!!!!!
Running 5 and walking 1 turned into walking until I felt the nausea pass and then running again only to have it return.
Blurry but the "I hate you" look is clearly visible.  This was during the nausea lap.
 I finally figured out that I drank too much water.  I stopped drinking water, threw away my Gu's (one more of those things touching my lips and I would've been heaving) and I started to feel better.  Second lap sucked (especially watching those people a lap ahead of me going through the "lap 3" chute and getting the coveted orange bracelet), but the third lap was actually almost enjoyable.  The pain was there but honestly, it wasn't as hard as a regular marathon.  Seriously.  It got dark on my third lap and they gave out glow sticks we had to have on us.  I was also pretty cold at this point but refused to wear a poncho and have that in my photos.  Call me vain.  Whatever.  LOL
I got about 3.5 miles into the third lap and went by a guy who was on his first lap.  I wanted to cry for him.  I still don't know if he made it across the finish line but I don't think he did.
I got my ass in gear and it could've been the adrenaline, knowing that looking at my watch I would absolutely finish in plenty of time to be called an Ironman, or the fact that I was cold and ready to be done moving, who knows.  I made it to the wrist band station and did a little happy dance and proclaimed that orange was my new favorite color!  The volunteers cheered and laughed and sent me on my way.  Less than 5 miles to go and I never had to run that way again!

This guy was #666...LOL
The last 5 miles were a blur of cheers from my support crew who had by then gotten the van and were EVERYWHERE on the course and cheers from strangers saying things like "Heading home! Thatta girl! and Go get that finish line!"  They had all figured out the wrist band colors, too.  I could've cried with excitement every time they mentioned the finish line.
We ran along this lakeside walking path for a couple miles before we hit the last 2 mile stretch to town and it was very dark and hard to see in places.  Coming out onto the main street with people and music and lights was awesome.  About a quarter mile from the finish line was a big stage with a DJ/MC who was just standing there in the middle of the path waving and smiling at me.  I can't even describe how elated I was at that point.  I turned the corner and ran parallel to the finish line as it was a giant, almost complete circle to get to it around the grassy field and into the chute with the red carpets laid out.  I had already decided ahead of time that if time permitted and there was anyone near me when I was ready to finish I would back off because gosh darnit! I wanted that finish line to myself!  I have been waiting for FOREVER to hear Mike Reilly say my name.
I'm almost done!!!!!
I would love to say that I remember seeing the crowds and hearing the music but it was almost an out of body experience in that finishers chute.  I had it completely to myself, no one in front, and no one close enough behind to even see.  The crowd was cheering so loudly, the red carpet was laid out, the lights were so bright I couldn't even see the crowd or any of my friends and family, but as I got almost to the finish line Mike Reilly came on the loudspeaker and said "She's 30 years old, Kelly Maloney, from Portsmouth, USA, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!!!!!"
This is the moment just as Mike Reilly said
"YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!"  They captured it perfectly:)
The Aftermath

I was happy, I was tired, I was sore, I WASN'T hungry but coke tasted amazing.  I got a post-race massage and was shivering so badly they called the medics over and wouldn't let me leave the tent until I stopped.  About 45 minutes later, I was out and my favorite people were there to greet me.  What a day it had been and what a day THEY put in.  The following is that night and the following day in pictures:

Yay I'm done!

Me and my Mom

Why hello chafing and sunburn

New number system.  Doesn't come off

Oh, yes, my age group category as well so I don't forget

Don't even know how I got a garter belt burn on my
 leg but it is still there 3 weeks later

Our super sweet free Ironman sunglasses.  

My puppy learned how to write in Maine
while I was in New Zealand!

Oh, and I was awake about 5 hours after I went to bed that night bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and not nearly as sore as I thought I'd be.  When it was twice as bad the NEXT day I realized that when I woke up it was only like 8 hours after I finished the race and it hadn't even set in yet, LOL.