After over 7 hours of riding, I was relieved to finally hand my bike off in T2 and start the part of the day I had actually trained for. I had really been hoping to have a good run at IMSG. I knew they had changed the run course this year and for some reason, I assumed that they had made it flat to give racers a break after the punishing bike course. It was only on race morning on the way to the swim start that someone clued me in that the run course was not flat. They said it was all either up or down. I didn’t really believe that though. I assumed it was going to be a piece of cake.
The run was three loops of out-and-back, which meant that we ran the same streets over and over. As I ran through town at the start of the run, I scanned the side of the road for Audra’s husband, Clint. I had joked with Clint a few days prior that he was my only spectator and I expected him to make me a sign. Sure enough, when I made my first pass by Clint, he held up my sign, which said “I didn’t come here to see you walk“, the preferred wording I had told Audra that I liked. I have a little issue with my running. I am either running at my intended race pace or…I am walking. There isn’t much in between. It’s something that has plagued me in my last two Ironmans and I was hoping to excise the demons today and actually run the whole course.
I mentioned in the start of this report that I learned some things at this race. One of the things I learned is this: if I don’t think I am doing well, I have a hard time pushing myself to hold a certain pace. So when I ran through town the first time and saw Clint and Audra (who I was initially shocked to see since I didn’t realize she was no longer in the race), the first thing I asked them was “how am I doing? What place am I in?” Audra said that Ironmanlive had me as 22nd, but she wasn’t sure if that included the bike. I quickly decided that I was too far out of the hunt to push myself really hard on the run so I made a deal with myself. I told myself that I would walk the uphills and run the downhills. I wasn’t alone in coming up with this plan. The course was full of racers doing this exact same thing. Since I didn’t think I was going to place well and I knew my time was far from a PR, I decided to enjoy myself on the run. When I walked, I would find someone to walk with and talk to. Then we would try to run together when we came to the downhills. It was new to me to have so much camaraderie during a race. I think everyone was friendlier at this race because of everything we had been through so far. I noticed that during the bike. People would congratulate you on your pace if you passed them and encourage you if they did the passing. I kept this up on the run, deliberately trying to spread good race karma wherever I could. It made me feel better to talk to other people during the run, so I kept it up until mile 18 or so.
Around that time, I realized I had been running for a while and I was actually feeling o.k. I swung back through town again and looked for Audra. She ran up next to me to see how I was doing and I told her that if I was close to the top 10, I had a little more to give. She said, “start running like you’re in the top 10 and I will find out and let you know!” So I started moving at a bit faster pace. I came to an uphill and started to walk, the way I had been doing since mile 2, and Audra appeared next to me on her mountain bike. “Jen! You better stop [explicative] walking! C’mon, let’s go!” And with that, I started running again. For the next few miles, Audra was right near me on the bike, yelling out encouragement and telling me how good I looked. Then she told me she had talked to Sonja and Sonja had said I was in 8th place. That lit a fire under me and I was running for real now. Like I meant it. Now I was hunting and I was looking for all of the women on the course and trying to run them down. It was impossible to tell what lap people were on, so I pretended they were all on the same lap as me.
I made my last trip up the diagonal at mile 24 and turned around with only a mile to go. I was really cooking now, like the previous 13 hours had not happened. The spectators were excited to see someone running so hard and their encouragement made me run a little faster. I ran faster and faster to the finish, hoping one or two girls might be right in front of me and worried that someone would come up from behind. Then I entered the chute. It was over and I had owned the last few miles.
I knew right then that it didn’t matter at all what the clock said. I had kept going on one of the hardest courses on it’s hardest day and I hadn’t given up. Even when I thought it was all over for me and I would just walk it in, I had found a little bit more. I hadn’t PRd or qualified, but I felt immensely satisfied. Every bit of suffering, doubt, pain and frustration was worth that feeling of knowing that I had left it all out there when I thought it mattered.
And Clint never did see me walking.