Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Release the Hounds

It’s that creepy, crawly, spooky, scary time of year. The only time of year we actually acknowledge and allow our dangerous, child-like love for all things sugared, sweet, treacherously full of trans fat while wandering around in the most creative of costumes – it’s Halloween

And for us adults, it’s that time of year where adults inevitably get invited to a Halloween party by a host that absolutely insists everyone wear a costume so much so that she wrote it in big block letters that costumes are not optional but MANDATORY for fear that if you arrive dressed as yourself you’ll be prohibited from entering and you’ll get ridiculed from the front windows by your costumed peers.

At first, I wasn’t pleased about this. I have a hard enough time choosing an outfit to wear for the day as myself, let alone pretending to get dressed as someone else. I spent about 1 hour thinking about my costume when I got frustrated because I realized that I was not 8 years old and had better things to do with my time, like swim, or bike, or run, and decided I would protest by simply not dressing up.

But after a few days even I gave into the haunting fun of Halloween and decided I was going to go as “raining men” as in it’s raining men, hallelujah. In other words, I was going to wear my raincoat with laminated pictures of men taped all over it. Clever, eh? But alas, the double-sided tape was not sticky enough and raining men became dropping all over floor men. And no one wants to wear a Halloween costume they have to clean up after – not even me.

So there I was, Saturday night, about 2 hours before the party started, scrambling to come up with something, anything for a costume just so I could get in the party door. And trust me, I needed to get in. It’s been a long summer in Ironman Hell and it was time to release the Ironman Hell hounds. There were a lot of good costume ideas, and good attempts but in the end everything was too big and nothing looked right. But then Chris and I came up with the only thing with a perfect costume for me one week post-Ironman Hawaii – I was a triathlete that had just returned from Ironman Hell. The costume fell right into place.

Upon arriving at the party, we were greeted by a most decorated and costumed group; our friends. Some of them really went all out with make-up, props, and design. And that is when I realized I probably looked like the world’s biggest tri-dork. Picture it - there I was at a party standing in my full Trisports.com outfit with a Kona visor, race belt strapped with chocolate Power Gels (never miss an opportunity to plug your sponsors), arms adorned with 666 in black Sharpie marker on both sides, even wearing a Kona race number 666 on my race belt.

Of course no one really got it and most even thought it was lame - but I didn’t care. There was no way I could put a disclaimer on my costume that indeed I just literally and honestly returned from Ironman Hell. In fact, wearing the costume and enjoying myself was not just a celebration of Halloween but a celebration of my goals, a ceremony of my Ironman efforts at the end of a very long and successful year. And if no one got that but me, that was quite alright.

The night moved along quietly, harmlessly with some good food, good friends, and of course plenty of good drink. This being a week completely off of working out with no long ride or early swim to get up for, I participated in full force leaving no cup empty and no drink untouched. Besides, I was eager to test my theory that Ironman training can give your metabolism a new found rocket fuel ability to process alcohol and fatty foods. And after a half of bottle of 3 different wines (uh, I think) I concluded that indeed even Ironman-paced drinks will still catch up to you at some point. At that point, I decided to take it down a notch, in other words switch to what appeared to be a harmless beverage (but not really) disguised in a bubbly punch from a smoky cauldron spiked with something that I should have known better about.

No sooner did the Firewoman begin walking around with jello shots, the orange filled with vodka and the red rock solid with everclear. So I quickly grabbed a few red, lining them up on my leg because you can’t be certain that there will be any left the next time they come around and what a shame that would be, and even more quickly downed each one while reporting "these are good!". I tried to convince B.O.B.-On-Fire that he should do a red shot with me and he quickly said “no, no, no, no, I’ll stick the orange,” which made me wonder if there was something about the red that I didn’t know or wouldn’t remember at all.

And then I remembered. Note the last time I drank everclear was back in college, a night which proved to me, the hard way, that one should never drink anything named after a large and hairy mammal that spends it's days swatting it’s own ass with it’s own tail. It was my freshman year, and I was uninvitedly at a party at the hockey team’s house. Of course, I didn’t know any hockey players and I had never played hockey but it was college and have party, freshman will follow. There were large garbage cans filled with the reddest, sweetest liquid floating with fruit - a punch known as hairy buffalo (also code for something too inappropriate to talk about here). And I remember standing there, plastic cup in hand, scooping large and frequent gulps out of the can saying, naively, it tastes just like Kool-Aid!, until a few hours later, I found myself in my own bed clutching a garbage can that I get very cozy with for the rest of the night. Again, pass on the drinks named after large, hairy mammals.

But Saturday night went much better. And besides, I was in cognito, completely disguised, so if anything did go wrong no one would ever know it was me. Right.

After a few hours of festivities, the Devil Herself got up to start some party games which were great because a game needs to be played, a game is a competition, and a game is meant to be won. Alas, this wasn’t my type of game as it involved answering a series of sordid and sneaky “If you’ve ever_____” fill in the blank statements for which I more often drew a blank than was able to fill it in. For example, I’ve never been to Europe, or arrested, or caught in a closet with myself. It was one of those games better suited for the curious and sex hungry minds of early teens rather than most of us in our early thirties but still there was something oddly enjoyable to it all and after a season of competing, I was in it to win it no matter what.

The first question I was off to a great start when the Devil said “If you’re not wearing underwear then move one seat to the right,” and in a triumphant WOO HOO! I got up and moved myself to the right because again I was wearing my Trisports.com race shorts which generally do not include underwear. At that moment, my husband dressed as King Tut stood up and dropped his drawers to the floor from under his pharoah’s robe and sat on the lap of the girl next to him. WOO HOO to him too.

And as the game wore on, the quality of the questions took a tantalizing turn as I watched someone's wife move while her husband sat still when the Devil said “If you’ve ever had sex in a public place”, I watched the Corpse Bride and I sit in the same chair for about 15 questions when she looked at me and said “We need to get out more”, and then for a final statement, when men and women were stacked nearly 7 deep on each other's lap in some chairs, I whispered my own version of an “If you’ve ever” to the Devil, since she had been sitting on my lap for the last 5 statements, and upon hearing my statement she looked at me and said “No?” to which I demanded “Just say it.” And so the Devil slurred, I mean shouted, “If you’ve ever slid across a bar floor naked, move one seat.” Immediately in reply, I heard the grumblings of B.O.B. On Fire, Kyle From South Park, and King Tut getting up and moving one seat to the right. The Devil looked at me, as if I knew something she didn’t know, and I just explained that they’d all been on Ragbrai and it was a baptism by naked beer slide on our team.

Just then, the Devil Herself, teetering in her high heels - in other words barely able to stand at this point - banged her pitchfork on the floor and commanded us to play another game – Twister. It started with a group of those 23 years of age and under, I have no idea how they got into the party or how any of us know children that young, twisting and turning their bodies with left arm yellow and right foot red over and over again until only Jane Jetson remained. The Devil, using her pitchfork as the only leg she could stand on at this point, commanded all Aries to get on the Twister mat. No Aries around. Then she demanded that all Leos get on the Twister mat. Why, why of 12 months, with 1 month down, with a 1 in 11 chance did she have to choose Leo? Silently I sat without saying a word when someone shouted “Lizzy, you’re a Leo” and the big cat was out of the bag, the Devil banged her pitchfork with fortitude on the floor, and I knew better than to not report to the Twister Mat. And after a few dizzy twists, poses, reaches, stretches, and turns, I returned to the couch with King Tut clutching a camera full of pictures of me and Jane Jetson in terribly suggestive positions with B.O.B. On Fire exclaiming, “I didn’t realize you were that flexible, Liz.” I didn’t either, but just for the sake of my costume let’s pretend like Ironman had something to do with it.

While ladling myself a cup of the cauldron of "probably should have stopped 10 cups ago", Kyle from South Park walked up to me and said “It’s good to see you drinking again, Lizzy.” Not that I've ever been known as the 'drinker' in the group, but I believe it was just a nice way of saying it was good to see me having fun again. At which I realized that I had been wound up and pent up for far too long and it was time to get the party started.

Of course that involved dancing.

Before the dancing began, the Devil Herself had succumbed to the curse of the Halloween Hostess, just like Cousin Amy did last Halloween all cute and cuddly in her Minnie Mouse outfit right before she covered Christie in vomit. This year Cousin Amy came as Batgirl, ready to fly away from any party fouls, passing on her curse to the Devil who had just recently resigned to her bedroom with a case of the dry heaves and mukes from too much party too soon (must pace yourself, my friend, take it from the Ironman – P.A.C.E. Y.O.U.R.S.E.L.F.). As such, the party had no direction, no leader so The Guy From Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas suggested we turn the music and get dancing.

Now I don’t dance. I turn my arms, I spin my legs and circles, and take short steps with my feet but I don’t dance. My body just doesn’t move that way. Which is why when I do start dancing you know that it has been preceeded by about 38, 746 drinks. Give or take. And when I found myself dancing while simultaneously swatting King Tut's tushy with a tiny plastic pitchfork as Sexy Back blared out of the speakers (no I am not the only thirtysomething that knows the words to this song), I knew that I had better slow down.

So I sat down, and watched Trinity dance for a little while holding a plastic gun which clearly set B.O.B. On Fire up in flames as he said “you are fulfilling a fantasy of mine.” I guess dancing with a plastic gun makes a girl pretty hot. Someone should be writing this all down to share with all of the women of the world.

The Firewoman took over as hostess and distributed awards to the most scary, sexy, and most lame. I almost walked away with the lamest costume award but who can compete with a princess, an Angel of Darkness, a blue demon, Lucy, and a guy in a straight jacket. Heck, who would even want to talk to a guy in a straight jacket? And that’s why I didn’t care if people voted me lame, or loser, or sexy, or scary because tonight it was all about releasing the Ironman hell hounds for a final hurrah of my workout-free freedom.

Around 1 am, after the music had turned down, and Trinity, King Tut, and I had been partied out enough, we headed home. I took off my Ironman Hell costume and thought that was it – I was free from it all, one week later, and ready to look ahead to the next big thing.

I haven’t decided yet what the next big thing is, and didn’t do much thinking on Sunday. I woke up at 11 am, head a little cloudy with too much cauldron punch, too much everclear, too much fun, and enjoyed my last day of nothing for a long, long time. But it’s worth it – the trip to hell and back - whether or not anyone understands it or gets it but me – it is so very much worth it. And who knows, maybe months from now I just might find myself buying a one way ticket straight back into that same hell just so I have a reason to release those hounds again next Halloween.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Best of Kona 2006

Long before I was an Ironman, I was a Trousermouse and it has become tradition to write a Best Of list for major team events. And since 5 out of 6 of us in Hawaii were Trousermice, a best of list had to follow. So here it is, the best of Kona 2006, written in conjunction withTim Regan (click on Wizard's Sleeve to find my sassy blogging doppelganger in the male form). Enjoy!

Avoid at all costs - The Kona Keahole Airport between the hours of 11 am and 2 pm

Largest road grade descended – 21%

Fastest way for man to create fire – Brake on a 21% grade at ludicrous speed

Largest road grade walked up – 21%

Biggest jam – The kitchen sink after Liz tried to insinkerate 5 lbs of pasta

Most insulted – Chris & Tim when Liz says “I’d invite you guys up here if you didn’t look so gay” at Lava Java

Most spare change requested by beach bum – 1.5 million dollars

Most true Hawaiian fact – all Tikki’s are made in China

Best breakfast food – Lava Java

Most notable item not found on the Lava Java menu – Smoke and a pancake

Most notable deja-vu – The ABC store

Worst navigator – Meredith on her way to the airport

Best navigator – Garmin Street Pilot

The location of the “penalty box” – The back of the GMC Envoy

Number of times Tim was in the penalty box - Permanent resident

First team member to poop during competition - Liz

Most common opening of the jet-lagged “window” - 3:30 am

Number of times Liz's "window" opened during Ironman - Once

Dumbest idea ever – Ride a century through the lava fields of Kona

That'll come back and bite you in the ass - Tim, when saying before leaving for Kona century, "We'll be back in 4 hours or so."

Time (in seconds) the wind let up during the Kona to Hawi century - Zero

Mile marker for giving up hope for a timely return on the century – 80

Mile marker for giving up ALL hope for a timely return on the century – 85

Highest maximum-full-effort-speed between mile marker 80 & 85 – 12 mph

Most insulting comment made by team member after Chris & Tim called from mile marker 80 - Liz, "Who's your daddy now?"

Best sports drink consumed when being picked up at mile marker 85 – Coors Light

Best road sign seen on a volcanic island – “Prevent Forest Fires”

Most likely to be found sleeping on your lanai - Meredith

Best word to spell out in little white rocks in the lava fields on Kona to Hawi century – HELP

Most notable race comment to Liz – Midgets, they're everywhere

Best Ironman utility player – The wet sponge

Most noted wildlife species in an island tour guide – The feral cat

Stinkiest primate – Mini-Pickles

Best adornment of coconut hats - TIE - Mr. Pickles and Caffie

Person completely bone dry after heavy tropical rain – Bert

Most Confused – The italian guy who thought that Dit said “have sex with me in a hotel by the airport” instead of “take me to the airport”

Most reliable taxi fare to the Kona airport by an Italian – A handjob

Best display of cowboy boots on a tropical island - Meredith

Mile at which you find a new use for the wet sponge - 9 on the run

Best breakfast item after an Ironman - Cookie dough

Number of minutes it takes before you crap out cookie dough and other stomach contents - 20

Number of time Christina cracked a beer before 1 pm - About 20

Number of times Christina said "Jesus Christ" in repsonse to something that Tim said - about 1000

Thought you were getting there without your wrist getting sore but not quite - When Bert said "you ain't there yet."

Best fly by - When the Envoy drove down Alii Drive, with Chris hanging out of the window w/a Coors Light in hand, completely forgetting to pick up Liz

Best display of Hawaiian T & A - Bert's digital camera

Most likely to have been schooled in Squeaky's porn shed - Bert (did you see those photos?!?)

Best relayer of pertinent information from thousands of miles away - Marsh

Confused the Kona beach with the French Riviera - Christina, when she 'accidentally' went topless at the beach

Don't cry over spilled beer - Mini Pickles

Got a little pussy - The entire team, that darn feral cat that we couldn't shake

How the Polynesians built Hawaii - Using poi alone

Might have to cut him from the team for this one - Chris, he actually liked the poi

Best display of chowboxstraness - Meredith eating 3/4 of the Cheez-It's in one sitting

Things you don't want to hear after biking 112 miles in Ironman - "It was easy because you had a tailwind today"

Dirtiest place in Kona - The pool where they 'cleanse' the wet sponges

Most desperate plea - Jerome, "It's 1 o'clock at home and I haven't had my coffee!"

An appropriate way to touch Liz's ass - post IM, get behind her when she says "A little assist for the Ironman please"

Most likely to abuse the appropriat way to touch Liz's ass privilege - Bert

Best hot body watching - TIE - Lava Java or Bert's camera display

Most likely to disappear on the island and never come back - Bert

Best sign for Ironman - "Oh yeah, it's not Decorah hot"

Token hot chick - Connie

Best tourist t-shirt - Bert for buying Chris the fishing shirt that said "Kona Master Baiter"

Number of beers consumed by the Swenson/Reagan alliance - Too many to count

Needs to teach my hubsand a lesson or two - Jerome and his ability to shop til Jen drops

Biggest tool - The woman that boarded Chris' plane 3 days after the race still wearing her lei and medal

Friday, October 27, 2006

Le Chien

It was 10:30 pm. I was en route from Kona to Chicago with a layover in the San Diego International Airport. I’ve been through California enough times to know that you never know what you’ll find there. And this time I certainly wasn’t surprised.

I was sitting on the floor by the only available outlet, charging my laptop and phone, when I heard a woman chatting loudly on her cell phone in the chairs across from me. The airport was quiet at this time of night, and her voice was echoing through the air drawing attention not only to her conversation but herself in general. And that’s when I noticed that she had something laying attached to a leash on the floor beside her. It was one of those flufferdoodle dogs with pointy upright ears and a long poofy tail.

I wondered what kind of person traveled directly with their dog, without crating it on with the cargo of the plane. I wondered how expensive of an endeavor it was to bring your canine friend along. But alas I would never know because I don’t own a dog and even if I did would probably never travel with it anyways.

I found my seat and settled in for the 3 hour 12 minute flight to Chicago. Finally, after about 6 total flights, 3 different plane tickets (long story) for the entire roundtrip, I had the aisle seat. Amen. It was dark and the plane was empty enough to guarantee some degree of comfortable sleep for the next few hours. As I sat there hoping that of the 30 people on the flight none would sit next to me, the woman with the dog inched closer and closer until she stopped right at my row.

She had the window seat.

She settled into her seat with the dog on her lap. At this point, the dog had been placed into a soft carrying case no bigger than my backpack. She nestled the case under the seat in front of her. Unzipping the top, out popped the head of the fluffiest, but one of the cutest dogs I have ever seen. She immediately began talking to it, reassuring the dog that it would be ok, that it would be a good flight.

She looked around for the flight attendant and pulled the dog on to her lap. Looking over at me, she said to the dog, “Let’s meet our new friend.” She pushed the dog my way. I stuck out my hand and started petting it’s fluffy, soft fur.

“What it’s name?” I asked.

“This is Sammy. He’s a Papillon. That means butterfly in French,” she remarked.

Well, hello there Sammy, I thought to myself. My name is Elizabeth and in Hebrew that means oath of God, though I don’t speak Hebrew and I’m not sure why God promised anything when he delivered me, it’s still nice to meet you. Bon jour.

I smiled. It’s not often that you get a lesson in the French language at this time of night, and especially not often that you learn clearly one of the most useful words in the French language. I could sense that the conversational possibilities with the word papillon would certainly come in handy the next time I travel in Paris.

“How did you get him on the plane?” I asked. Really, you can’t bring lotion, toothpaste, or water on a plane but you can bring a dog? Imagine all the things you could smuggle on board in a dog’s pooper. Not that I’ve ever tried smuggling anything in my pooper or Chewie’s pooper before but I’m sure it’s been considered by someone in a drug cartel.

“You pay the money, you get the seat,” she said matter-of-factly. “He’s never been on a plane before,” she reported, “but I figured I had the frequent flyer miles so I might as well bring him along.” I did some quick calculations. With the cost of flight today, this woman might have paid up to $300 worth of frequent flyer miles to fly her friend across the country. That seems like a lot, and I wonder if there is some discount for those weighing under 20 lbs (he weighed 4 lbs as she later informed me). Is it like a baby? If it can fit on your lap, does it get on for free? Surely this dog couldn’t cost the plane much. He wouldn’t need a beverage, he definitely didn’t need a seat, and would not add to a weight problem. In fact, the only costly or risky thing about him what the possibility that he might poo or pee in the aisle – which the flight attendant warned her before boarding the plane, yes in these words, “As long as he doesn’t poo or pee, it’s ok with me.” I’m not saying I’m a flawless professional, but I would have thought that a phrase like relieve himself, or potty on the plane, might have been more appropriate than poo or pee.

She pulled out a bottle of pills and tried with effort to pop off the top. She actually smelled a little ‘shiny’ herself, so I wondered if perhaps she was going for the old 1 – 2 punch, a little synergism to help her through the flight. “These are his sleeping pills,” she explained pulling out some small blue pills, “but I’m not so sure he needs them. What do you think?”

Suddenly I felt important. Here I was flying home from San Diego and my veterinary skills are being called into question. Not that I have any skills, but it made me feel special that she even bothered to ask my opinion.

“He seems to be fine,” I said. And he did. He was quiet, calm, at ease. Not at all what you’d expect from a small, fluffernut dog like that. Certainly made I-Chi and Chewie look like overactive, easily distractible raging hounds from whence hell came.

The woman pulled the unmedicated Sammy out of his Sherpa Bag (really, it was called a Sherpa Bag) and plopped him lightly on the seat between us. She pet him gently and talked to him in baby talk about whatever you talk to a Papillon about. For all I knew, it could have been French. I asked if he had to stay crated for the whole trip. She said yes, but perhaps because it was a late flight they would bend the rules. But, she added, he should probably be strapped in. With that, she took the seatbelt and tried to fasten it around Sammy. Right then, the flight attendant stopped by our seat and sternly said, “You know the rules.”

The woman smiled sheepishly, and looking at me she said “Looks like we got in trouble.” I didn’t know at which point I and her became “we” but she seemed to have found a caring camaraderie in me as her seat mate and was taking full advantage of our newly formed partnership. In fact, at that moment, she reached over, grabbed my arm, and said, “Thanks for being such a good seat partner.”

Compliantly, she put Sammy back into the bag and zipped the top closed. She turned to me and said, “If he makes noise, you’re going to be in trouble because you told me not to give him the pills.” She was joking, obviously, but there was also something strange about this woman, like she really believed that I knew enough to advise her not to sedate the dog and that it really would be my fault for giving her faulty advice.

She started talking about Sammy, how happy she was that she decided to bring him along. In fact, she admitted that her only hesitation was the fear of crashing with Sammy on board. Honestly, she wondered how Sammy would save himself if he was zipped into his Sherpa bag. And, if it was an over-the-water landing, would he be able to swim? I wasn’t sure if the French knew how to swim, but I know they liked to wander beaches topless so I assume they feel some degree of comfort around water. To set herself at ease, she kept the top of the bag slightly unzipped, in case Sammy needed an out. In case we crashed and he needed to save himself. I wondered if I should even mention that the oxygen mask might just be a wee bit too big for Sammy’s small mouth.

While we waited to depart, she began sharing the details about her life. There are some people out there who can tell you years of their life in about 10 minutes. I am not one of them. All she got out of me was Hawaii, vacation with husband, end of story. And from her I learned that she had 4 children, 3 stepchildren, 11 grandchildren, one of which was 3 weeks old, and lived in Columbus, that she was going to see, but they used to live in San Diego, but liked Columbus better, because her son is a professor at Ohio State, and she owns a clinic, and sometimes Sammy comes with her and people think he is a healing dog. Now, breathe.

Once the lights went out and we were in the air, she quieted down. And Sammy slept. Even I fell asleep in the most comfortable position a post-Ironman can find being upright (code for ‘no positions meeting this criteria’).

About halfway through the flight, the woman got up to use the bathroom. As soon as she left, Sammy’s radar must have signaled ‘owner gone astray’, because he immediately popped his head up out of the bag and nervously looked around. I said hello to him and could sense what happened next - he saw an opportunity for freedom and jumped out of the bag. I tried to catch him with my hands, but he was little and spry and took off running towards the back of the plane. I’ve never seen anything as funny as a small white pooch running down an airplane aisle. Clearly this has to violate some safety code, some federal aviation law. You can’t tamper with the fire alarm in the bathroom, you can’t unbuckle your seatbelt, you can’t use the wrong bathroom, you can’t call the flight attendant a dime store whore (not that I would), but let your dog run up and down the aisle – that literally flies no problem. At the very least, it should have stirred most people into laughter. But the plane was dark and I’m not even sure anyone noticed but me.

Sammy made a beeline to the bathrooms in the back of the lane, but when he realized that his owner had illegally used the bathroom in the front gally (first class only, after all, and while I’m at it, what the hell is a gally?), he ran quickly in that direction. The woman was just about to go into the bathroom, with the door slightly ajar, Sammy jumped in with her and she closed the door.

After a few minutes, she returned to her seat with Sammy in arms. She carefully zipped him up into the Sherpa bag and both returned to sleep.

After we landed, the woman took Sammy out of his bag and put him on her lap. He nuzzled against her and she cradled him almost like a baby. And in one of the most loving, most comforting gestures I’ve ever seen, he looked up at her and licked her face.

I wonder what (if anything) happened to this woman, why she was traveling alone with her dog and not a husband or a friend. What had her living thousands of miles away from her children, and grandchildren, and stepchildren, and living only with this dog. I sensed that she had more than a companion in Sammy, she had perhaps a friend, someone that listened to her stories, someone that completed her day and made her feel important again. I wondered what life had brought to her, how she found Sammy, and what made her bring him along.

And this is the beauty of meeting strangers and having them share a piece of their life with you. No matter how fleeting the moment or how short the encounter, it makes you think and wonder as you spin stories of their life situation while making you more grateful for your own.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

One Of The Best Days Of My Life

“Today I get to do an Ironman,” I announced to Chris at 4 am.

It had been months of training, sacrifice, and planning that had led up to this day. And now here I was, standing in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii at 4 am on October 21st ready to begin the day long adventure of Ironman.

Around 4:45 am, Chris dropped me off on Alii Drive near the transition area. Immediately, I was bombarded with what felt busy
and bustling. People everywhere, volunteers, lights, announcements, restaurants already open, spectators already sitting on the seawall for the best view, the banyan tree is blazing with bright lights.

Triathletes were streaming around the King Kamehameha Beach Hotel going in many different directions. I stood in the middle of it all looking around trying to figure out where to go. What happens next? What’s first? Bags? Body marking? I follow the crowds of anxious triathletes behind the hotel. Before entering, I turn in my run and bike special needs bags, hoping I would see them many miles from now. For the second time in two days, I get weighed. This morning I weigh in 3 pounds heavier than at registration. It makes me laugh and makes me wonder why they bother weighing us at all.

“What number are you?” a volunteer asks.

I am number 1568. A volunteer stamps each number on my arms and another is writing my age on my left calf. They stamp numbers on to my arm with thick black paint that will eventually survive the day, plus two subsequent applications of sunscreen, and an oily massage after the race.

I find my bike far into the transition area near the end of the pier. The transition area is buzzing with triathletes but everyone is quiet, unfriendly, focused on their own preparations. I put food on my bike, attach the wheel magnet, put in my bottles. Though there are hundreds of people all around me, I have never felt so alone before a race. Everyone was so focused on themselves. I didn’t recognize any faces and could barely understand half the languages. I finally see a familiar face, Jennifer, and ask if Jerome will pump my tires. He asks how much air I want in my tires. I don’t know – usually Chris makes these decisions. For the first of many times that day, I wish Chris was there with me.

By 5:45 am, my bike is all set to go. I keep myself distracted by walking around transition watching the other triathletes. A few times, I walk by the pro area. Bright lights and cameras catch their last minute checks and preparations. I see Natascha Badmann getting her bike ready to ride. I see Norman Stadler sitting on the ground by the fence. He looks completely calm and focused. He looks like someone ready to win the Ironman. A little over 8 hours later, he does.

”What do we do now?” I ask Gail Leveque, a familiar face from Team Trisports.com, who is waiting by the pier.

I am feeling alone, nervous with my own anticipation, and wanting to talk. I sit with Gail near the steps to the pier, to wait before entering the water. She talks about her past Ironman experiences. She tells me to go easier than I think I should on the bike because it all comes down to the run. I think of all of the advice I have received from several Kona veterans, including Bob, Laura, Jennifer, and Brian, and hope I have the sense enough to follow it all throughout the day.

“Good luck,” I say quietly to Desiree Ficker as she passes me as she nears the swim start. She smiles at me with her blue eyes gleaming with the hope of success in her Ironman journey. The pro athletes enter the water and swim out to the start line about 300 yards away. Helicopters hover in the sky creating chop in the water. A cannon sounds and the race begins. Kona 2006 is underway.

“All age groupers should start entering the water. Do not wait,” the announcer says repeatedly after the pro athletes start their swim telling us to swim no farther than the giant Gatorade bottle to form an imaginary start line.

With 15 minutes until the race start, I get in and tread water. I think about my starting position and choose the far right about the third row in from the front. With 1800 athletes entering the water all at the same time, I know that any place will probably be the wrong place. I have heard numerous tales about how tactile and aggressive the Kona swim start can be. A short while later, I confirm those stories across 2.4 miles.

“I like your tube,” I say to a man behind me floating inside a pink fish-shaped inner tube.

I think he has the right idea. Treading water for 15 minutes is not easy, and reserving a small open space in the water gets harder and harder as athletes fill in. Though there are many in the water, there are even more waiting on the beach. I realize how big this race is, how massive the swim start feels. People are lined along the pier wall watching. Some triathletes are jumping from the pier into the water. Accidentally, I bump into a few athletes treading around me. I smile but no one else returns it. Everyone seems so tense and so tight.

The gun goes off and immediately it is a mess. Arms, feet, legs, hands of over 1800 triathletes that seem to all be groping and grabbing for me. I swim the first 100 yards with my head up to see where I’m going. Swimmers approach me from behind like sharks hungry for a feed. I’m being pulled at, swum over, kicked, swatted. Just let me keep my teeth, I think. And please don’t break my goggles. I think about Chris swimming next to me in the pool when we practiced this start – with him pulling my feet, swatting my head, pawing at my goggles. I knew I could get through this.

After 10 minutes, I am surprised to find myself thinking that the swim is actually quite enjoyable and effortless. The pace is easy and the water is relaxing. There is a rhythmic calm to the ocean that soothes me as I swim through, over, and around the neverending line of triathletes. The water is not as cloudy as in the days before, but it is not the clear aquarium full of colorful fish that I expected. I entertain myself by watching the rocks below and the bubbles from the swimmers around me.

The buoys are large and orange, but seem few and far between. On top of that, the women wear orange swim caps making every bobbing head look like a small buoy off in the distance. To my right, young men sit on surfboards shouting and waving at us to swim left. I do my best to stay on course but at times I round the buoys on the wrong side along with many others. I remind myself not to worry, just go with the flow, just get through the swim.

I swim around the Body Glove boat, keeping it close to my side. 33 minutes have gone by. I know the way back will be longer, choppier, slower with the current to fight. Though the pace is easy, the effort to pull and power myself through the ocean has increased making it seem much, much harder. At 53 minutes, I feel like I have been swimming forever and still have far to go. I am pulling water but getting nowhere. I try to find feet to follow for a draft but it seems that no one is swimming ahead of me. Instead, they swim next to me or pull at my feet over and over again. Though we have the entire expanse of the ocean for our swim, not a minute of this swim has gone by without someone touching some part of me.

Finally, I swim up to the beach at 1:14. Coming out of the water, I am smiling because I have finished the ocean swim, a fear I thought I would not overcome, a fear that had stood in my way for years. As I exit the water, I think that I have not only faced my fears but took fear for a 2.4 mile roughwater swim in the ocean.

The announcer reports that over 900 athletes have already exited the water. I run through the sand and up the stairs. I run through the hoses, rinsing the saltwater out of my hair, eyes, and off of my legs. Running towards the rows of hanging bags, a volunteer calls my race number and hands me my bag full of swim to bike gear.

“Women in here, women in here,” a volunteer says, directing women into the white changing tent.

Two volunteers immediately appear, dump my transition bag on to a bench, and begin handing things my way. I grab a dry towel and wipe my face. Someone puts on my singlet and another helps me with my gloves. Someone else puts my glasses on my face. A woman sprays my entire body with sunscreen. I run out of the tent towards my bike, put on my helmet, and begin the very long run out of transition.

“Go Elizabeth! Go!” someone shouts from the side of the road.

The day is filled with random, faceless voices shouting my name and number. The first 11 miles of the ride are fun, exciting, and fast riding out and back around town, streets lined with screaming people. Everyone is pushing a fast, furious pace feeding on the energy of the crowds and the anticipation to get the race started. I resist the temptation to push myself in this part and instead sit back and enjoy what will likely be the last large cheering crowd for many, many miles. The whole time I am smiling and thinking to myself that I am here, right now, in Kona, doing Ironman.

”Left turn ahead," the volunteer says directing the line of endless cyclists on to the relentless Queen Kaamanahu Highway.

The real ride begins. The forever out and back along the Queen K, lined with lava fields, sporadic waving grasses, and the ocean far off in the distance. I settle into my aero bars, put my head down, and pedal. I think to myself what a great day is unfolding before me. I think about Marshall telling me, “think of this as the best day of your life - you get to do everything you love for an entire day.” The entire day is mine and ahead of me. I pass the first few miles by smiling and singing songs. I feel silly, I feel giddy. I truly believed this would be one of the best days of my life. I reminded myself to be present for it, to enjoy it every step of the way.

“The first half of the ride should feel easy. You should think to yourself that it is almost too easy,” Gail Leveque suggested to me as we waited for the race to begin.

In Hawaii, you learn to listen to the advice of those that have been there before, no matter who they are, which age group they are in, or how many times you have beaten them elsewhere. This is Kona, it’s different. Kona is not about who you are, what you have done, or how you got there. Kona does not care about or accept national championships, or ITU silver medals, or All Americans. Kona doesn’t care. Kona doesn't care if you rode your road bike in Buffalo Springs to get to this race. Show me what you can do right here, right now, Kona says to me with a sneer. And all that you can do is show Kona that you care by respecting the distance, taking the course seriously, and listening to the advice of those who have been there before.

Per Gail’s advice, I keep my pace easy, very easy, knowing this was a long, long ride. I am going so easy on the first part of the ride that I wonder if I should check my pulse. I am being passed by men and women. In no other race would I sit so complacently and not respond. But I know I should be patient. This is my first Ironman. I have no idea what lies in the day ahead.

“In Kona, nothing tastes better than cold water,” Laura Sopheia told me months ago when I asked her for advice.

She was right. Though the sun hides behind the clouds, Hawaii is still hot with warm winds. Every 5 to 10 miles, I grab a water bottle, pour water it on my head, on my face, into my mouth. There is literally a smorgasboard of food and beverage at the aid stations, but I packed everything on my bike and follow my nutrition plan carefully. My Bento Box is bursting with bars, salt tabs, gels, and more. Months of experimentation and calculations let me execute my nutrition plan with confidence that these calories will carry through a very long day.

“Whatever you do, don’t play the Ironman game. Just sit and spin instead,” Tim told me after he and Chris rode the bike course on Friday.

I hear Tim in my head as I pass the miles. The Ironman course is deceptively hilly, challenging, and unforgiving. You could easily ride yourself into a hole if you didn’t keep your effort level and your ego in check. Tim warned me not to focus on speed or worry about distance. Just sit and spin, spin easy, spin comfortably and just get through the miles. Don’t worry about how fast you are going or how far you have to go. Unlike any other race, I disregard the cyclists that continually pass me and I have no attack to give back. I realize that I am probably riding too easy, but at the same time I realize that everyone else is probably riding too fast. It would be easy to get caught up in the chase, to start working outside of my comfort zone. But I’m here to finish the race; I’ve never done an Ironman, I had no idea what to expect. I raced with the finish in mind and nothing else. Any time goals were left in training about 3 months ago. In Kona, you learn to just appreciate the finish and expect nothing else.

Riding along, I realize the hardest part of this ride is not the course or the distance. I had no doubt I could ride 112 miles. I had done it many times in training. The hardest part was what could have happened in my head. It’s hard for 112 miles to keep your head positive, focused, and relaxed. It becomes a game of turning every negative into a positive, of finding the lightness in the fields of dark black lava. Phrases that I had repeated to myself in training, that I had read in books, that I had written to myself the night before filled my head and any negativity or doubt was quickly pushed away. Today my mind was unshakable. Not this lava, not this heat, nor wind, nor hills would get in my way; to the finish line - full speed ahead.

The turnaround point is at mile marker 60. I ride across the timing mat, and shortly after pick up my special needs bag. I am one of the few athletes to pull over to the side. A volunteer appears with my bag and starts taking out the contents. I tell him I want to take my helmet off for a minute and dump cold water on my head. Not only does he hold my helmet, but he wipes my sunglasses clean on his shirt while I pour cold water on my head. I replace my empty bottles with full bottles and begin the descent out of Hawi.

It didn’t surprise me that I passed on the baggie of Cheez-It’s in my special needs bag. They didn’t sound appealing, and neither did anything else. In fact, everything that tasted great in training tasted like warm vomit during the race. But I knew this would happen. Heather and Jennifer told me that keeping food going in and staying down was the hardest part of Kona. I took tiny bites of my bars because chewing was so hard. I swallowed the bites as quickly as possible because waiting too long reminded me of just how unpleasurable and dissatisfying everything tasted. I spit out the last bite of mostly everything. At one point, I even got the ‘mukes’ (mini-pukes) from eating. But I had to keep eating. Ironman is not a race about endurance or strength; it’s a race of balancing calories in with energy out.

“If you do everything right, you’ll negative split the ride,” Bob Scott shared with me on Wednesday at the pre-race meeting.

I held back for the first 60 miles and knew that Bob was right - the savings could now be spent on the ride back to Alii Drive. It was like someone lit a fire beneath my wheel. It also helped that the turnaround delivered a strong tailwind. My mental outlook completely changed. I took serious advantage of that tailwind and flew along at 26 mph. It made me feel alive again. I began passing most of the weary riders who had spent all of their savings in the first 60 miles. Patience pays off in Kona, and it pays off big.

Like anything in Ironman, things change and change quickly. After only 10 miles, tailwind turned into cross headwind. The winds kept teasing, taunting us. Headwind, tailwind, cross headwind, cross tail. Winds are variable, swirling, bending the tall grasses sideways, making my arms ache from holding the aero bars so hard.

I thought the way back would be hard, that miles 60 through 90 would drag on forever. Instead, I was surprised how quickly the miles went by and how easy it was to reign in my head from distractions, doubts, and other random dilemmas you encounter during Ironman. I kept reminding myself to race in the moment, to be present in the now. To revel in this minute, at this mile, by this 55 mph speed limit sign on the Queen K highway. Every time I found myself thinking about the run ahead, I stopped that thought, pushed it out of my mind, and told myself to focus on the now. To control what you can control at that exact moment every step of the way. One pedal stroke at a time, mile by mile, hour by hour. This is how you must race Ironman – small steps leading to the finish. Don’t get caught up in the big picture, don’t look too far ahead.

“You will come back from this ride a changed person,” Tim said on Friday after riding the course.

You become more patient and hopeful after riding this course. You realize that waiting at a time when it seems the hardest will reward you the largest. At mile 85, it was raining and cross headwind turned again into full on headwind. At one point, I was riding 15.8 mph. But I knew if I just waited and hung in there that the time would pass, the distance would pass, the winds would shift, and I would get through it. I told myself to keep pedaling, keep eating, keep pushing. Time will pass. It always does. And with that waiting came a reward. 20 miles to go and the ride becomes instantly effortless and quiet. It is the recognizable quiet of tailwind that lets me cruise at 23 mph.

There is nothing better than seeing the 100 mile sign at Ironman. 12 miles is less than 30 minutes at this pace. 12 miles is completely manageable. The race becomes more and more tangible the closer I get to the bike finish. Then, at mile 105 I see Chris. I change my mind. There is nothing better than seeing your husband at the mile 105 sign at Ironman. I am so energized that I ride smiling all the way into town.

I dismount my bike and a volunteer immediately takes it from me. Another random voice shouts my name, recharging me and making me grateful that I have returned to the crowds of spectators with my feet back on the ground. I begin the long, long run to the transition bags.

“Vaseline?” the volunteer asks, removing the contents of my bike to run transition bag on to the bench. Yes, I say, rubbing the Vaseline on my slightly chafed thighs. Another volunteer puts my race belt on and then hands me my visor. I ask for a dry towel to wipe my feet off and then another volunteer appears with water which I gladly take and drink. “Powder?” she asks. Yes, I take the powder and sprinkle it into my socks and shoes. “Gel?” she asks. Oh god no. Not another one. Not yet, I think to myself. “Tampons?” she asks. Yes, I admit. “Oh, you poor, poor thing!” she exclaims.

I run out of the transition tent, vaselined, powdered, tamponed, and so ready to run. This is the run. This is my thing. And my legs feel fresh, zippy, and ready to go. I look down at my watch and see that it says 7:14. This is the first time I realize that a sub-11 hour Ironman in Hawaii is well within my reach if I can manage a 3 ½ hour marathon. And from there, it was as good as done. I set out on that run course with fire in my eyes.

“I’m just going to go for a short run,” I say to Chris at the first corner before turning on to Alii Drive.

I wanted him to know that I still had my sense of humor, I was still feeling great, the race was still within my control. This was my race, this was my day. Not only that, but it was the best day. I had never raced a marathon and had no idea what was ahead or what to expect but I was ready to take on the course.

The course travels along Alii Drive, along the ocean. The streets are lined with spectators shouting wildly. Miles go by quickly, as the crowds and other runners entertain your mind and pass the time. the sun has warmed up the day but still the humidity is low and the heat is manageable. I keep thanking whomever, whatever for the beautiful weather we have been given for the day.

I decide to break the run down into small, manageable pieces. I tell myself to just focus on running station to station, mile by mile. Don’t even think about running 26.2 miles. The time will pass. The miles will go by, they always do.

The aid stations are well-stocked, filled with water, ice, Gatorade, cola, gels, fruit, a buffet of Ironman delights. As I approach each one, I have my routine; grab a wet sponge, dump ice in my bra, grab a water, drink, grab another water, dump on head. Repeat 25 times.

Leaving Alii Drive, at mile 8, we begin a long hard climb up Palani Drive before running on to the Queen K. My stomach drops, and I have a feeling that the Gatorade I took earlier at miles 3 and 6 is not sitting well. This is the irony of Ironman Hawaii. You train with it all summer long, on long, hot runs. You take it in Kona and your body completely rejects it.

We make the turn on to the Queen K and I am desperate to relieve myself with, as Bob Scott puts it, bottom end trouble. Luckily, I see a port-o-let just off the side of the road and I find a new use for my wet sponge. I left that one behind.

Oddly enough, you realize how much time you lose when you stop for 2 minutes to crap out the entire contents of your stomach. On the hill, I passed 3 women easily. As I exited the port-o-let, they went running by me. After the race, I realize that these 2 minutes cost me a medal, cost me a top 10 finish at Ironman Hawaii. This is the difference between going to Hawaii to finish and going to Hawaii to race. Next time I go to Hawaii, I will go there to race, I will make sure every second counts.

I decide to switch to water only and increase the time between gels. Whether it was too much salt, or too much sugar, or too much Ironman, it was time to respond to the race as it was unfolding and adapt my plan.

Around mile 13, I see the pro women running the other way on the Queen K. Michellie has a strong lead, followed by Desiree a few minutes behind. Lisa Bentley is running very strong; she looks just like the pictures in the magazine, with a bright white smile and a bouncy step. Natascha has a look of desperation or despair on her face, the look of just hanging in there and struggling to get by. Heather Gollnick runs by.

“Go wahine! Go little woman!” someone shouts from the side of the road.

Hawaiian culture and language is all around the race and hearing it now reminds me that indeed I am on the unique and beautiful Big Island, that indeed I am doing the Ironman in Hawaii.

There is something about the Big Island that makes it so powerful, so immense, so strong. Perhaps that it stands boldly in the middle of the ocean. Perhaps that it erupted bravely from a volcano. Whatever it is, you get the sense that the island itself is so big, so impressive, so indescribable with force that staging something as big as the Ironman on the island makes perfect sense.

The Queen K is only one of the testaments to the unforgiving boldness of the island. Piping hot and black as night, it extends forever in a straight line. Each mile pounds out on the pavement with only the aid stations to break up the monotony of running along black lava fields.

But still my legs feel great, my pace is steady. The only thing standing between me and the finish line is about 10 more miles. This is the hardest part of the marathon – 26.2 miles is a long, long way to run. Half marathons are over before you know it. Full marathons make their presence known every step of the way.

Finally, I turn left into the Natural Energy Lab. Before the race I told myself to draw energy from the lab rather than letting it suck energy from me. I was excited to face this part of the race, excited to see if indeed I could run through the proverbial wall at mile 18 and keep going strong.

“Go girl, you keep running strong,” a man says to me from the side of the road around mile 16. I look at the man, recognizing his tall, handsome appearance and lanky body. “Peter Reid, oh my goodness,” I say as I run right by him. Part of me wanted to stop, shake his hand, take a picture.

Seeing Peter Reid reminds me that Ironman is a race for runners as he was once a man who clicked off this run course in 2 hours and 47 minutes. To arrive at the third leg of this long day to know that I could completely control the rest of the race was invigorating. In the swim you have the ocean. On the bike you have the winds. On the run – it’s just your feet, one step at a time, one foot in front of the other. I keep running my steady pace down the long black road.

“What they don’t tell you is that your special needs bag on the run is at mile 18, not mile 13,” Jennifer had told me from her past Kona experience.

After turning around in the Energy Lab, at mile 18, I refuse my special needs bag. The only thing I put in it was a pair of socks anyways. The day before the race, I sat with my run special needs bag, called Jennifer, and asked if it would be remiss of myself to not put anything in the bag. She said she didn’t use hers either. What would you need at mile 18? With 8 miles to go what could possibly make you feel better other than just being done? I wave my hand at the volunteer, signaling that I don’t want the bag and just keep moving along.

“Hey girl,” Peter Reid shouts at a pro woman that I am passing as we run along the road leading out of the Natural Energy Lab. “Peter,” she exclaims, “I am having the worst day of my life,” she laments. She runs across to the other side of the road and he gives her a hug while saying, “Don’t worry, girl, we’ve all been there.”

At mile 19, you realize that some athletes are breaking through while others are breaking down. It doesn’t matter who you are, what you’ve done, if your leg is marked with an age, an X, or Y, suffering and pain is a human feeling that we all experience and we all understand. You realize that while you are having the day of your life, breaking through, others are hitting the bottom and breaking down. You realize that this breakdown disregards if you are a pro, or a national champion, a former Ironman world champion. It is a breakdown that merely seems to choose victims by luck and circumstance alone.

I keep running along, strong and steady out of the Natural Energy Lab. At mile 21, I realize some are not as lucky as I hear an athlete behind me throwing up repeatedly, making a smacking sound as it hits the pavement. 5 miles is a long walk if you are spilling your stomach the entire way. I tell myself how grateful I am for my solid stomach and strong legs. Just a few more miles to go.

“You can do it!” a young Hawaiian girl shouts through a thick Hawaiian accent as she offers me a cup of water.

It was almost as if she was speaking right to me, right to the bottom of my soul to pick me up for the last few miles. I hit mile 22 and cannot believe there is only 4.2 miles more to my Ironman experience. I am surprised at how good my body feels. I am sad that the day is almost over. I am almost ecstatic that I will finish before dark. My right quad is getting a little tight but still my legs seem zippy and fresh. My only complaint of pain is in my feet. I wore my racing flats and after 22 miles of dumping water on my head and wringing a sponge across my body I have two slippery shoes and feet full of blisters. After mile 22, I feel a shooting pain under my big toe and realize a blister has exploded. Soon later, I symmetrically feel the same pain in my other foot and realize that one burst too. I push the pain out of my head and just keep running.

“Midgets, they’re everywhere,” a woman in my age group says snarkily as I pass her at mile 23.

Ironman does different things to different people. The distance starts to wear on your body and your mind as the day goes on. And after 10 hours on the course, I knew better than to snap back at this woman. It wasn’t her talking, it was the distance – it was the wind, the heat, the endless miles. It was the ugly side of Ironman. Not everyone was having the best day of their life, not everyone was turning negatives into positives. But just to make a point, I’ll admit that I picked it up when I passed her.

With 2 miles to go, I start to pick it up. I see Laura Sopheia and April Gellatly ahead. These are tough women, strong women, women who have been on top of their age group at long course many, many times. I took me 10 ½ hours to pass Laura - at age 51 she is stronger than ever and reaching a new peak. As I pass her, she says with a smile, “I knew you would catch me today.” I pass several women in my age group in these last few miles. I am flying past people. The energy from the town is pulling me back in and I cannot wait to run down Alii Drive. I make the turn towards Alii Drive. I want to celebrate my accomplishment, to revel in the last few moments of Ironman. But of course Ironman has other plans for me. Expect nothing, prepare for anything.

“You can’t do that! YOU cannot run with HER!” I shout at a triathlete in my age group behind me as her two friends run alongside her, shouting for her to keep pushing to catch me for the length of the block.

Ironman is a race with yourself. And I’ve just raced myself for over 10 ½ hours and I’m not about to give it up now. The triathlete, with her two friends in tow, are all 3 chasing me. But I am not about go give anything up. I am cruising down Alii Drive at a pace better suited for the end of a ½ marathon than the end of an Ironman.

"This was not the last mile I was looking for," I think to myself.

As I approach the line, the lights hanging from the large banyan tree illuminate me in my moment. I hear the announcer say my name and announce me an Ironman. I run speedily across the line at 10:45, put my hands up, stand there for about a second, then move along.

“I predict you’ll cry at least two times on race day,” Chris said to me after riding the course on Friday.

Indeed, I expected to cry. I expected I would cry on the bike course riding into the wind, or cry after 80 miles. But that never happened. And when I crossed the line, I didn’t cry either. There was no epiphany, no magical moment, no point in time where I thought I must do this again or I can’t believe I just did that. I just crossed the line. It was a line that had dangled in front of me all summer and finally I crossed it. It was more a feeling of relief than an emotional catharsis or self-realization.

My two catchers put a lei around my neck asking if I am ok. Yes, I’m fine. They ask what I want. What a loaded question to ask me after finishing Ironman. What were my options? Can I see a menu? How about upcakes? Ice cream? A shower? Peanut butter cups? Coffee? Damn that Starbuck’s at mile 24. My husband? How about just a massage? They point me in the direction of the massage tent and I walk away.

Walking what seems like a mile to the tent, I assess the damage. One slightly sore quad, two feet full of blisters, a throbbing feeling in my legs, and a soreness in the right side of my chest. The massage therapist lightly works on my legs and arms.

“Can we get you anything?” he asks, “Gatorade, Power Bar, banana?”

No, no, no. Are you kidding? I am on a complete Power-anything detox for the next 3 months. Starting about 10 minutes ago. I ask for something salty but they are all out of crackers. I relax and enjoy the rest of the massage.

Afterwards, there are three things I want to do. I want to find my husband. I want to find Jennifer. I want to find my sports chiropractor, Larry Svihlik. These are the 3 people that kept me going strong all summer long, who offered me hours of advice and support along the way. When I finally find Larry, he congratulates me and gives me a hug. I tell him I’m not sure I need to do another Ironman anytime soon. He tells me to give it a few days. Right after that, I look up at the Jumbotron screen and see Jennifer crossing the line. Chris shows up a short while later.

We walk back to the car. I am getting sorer and my blisters are so painful. Crossing Kuikani Highway, we see Bob Scott running towards the hill. We cheer him on. He is waving his glow necklace in the sky before he runs up to the hill on Palani Road. He doesn’t miss a step. As soon as he passes us, the sky erupts in torrential driving rain, turning the streets into rivers of rushing water. I think about Bob and worry about him – running in the darkness and the rain. At 77 years old, he is so tough, world champion tough. This is what it takes. He didn’t miss a step. He just kept running up that hill in the pouring rain.

Chris carries me out of the car and dumps me in the shower. I stand in the hot water still wearing my suit, socks, and visor. I didn’t matter. It all needed a good cleaning anyways. Afterwards, I lay on the bed. My stomach hurt and I didn’t want to move.

"I can't believe I just did an Ironman," I thought wearily to myself.

I turned on my phone and realize I have two messages; one from my mom and one from Leslie Curley. Hearing these two messages makes me cry and finally the emotion that has built up all day is let out.

Afterwards, I know I should eat. I go to the kitchen and Chris tells me he has filled the refrigerator with all of my favorites; cookie dough, vanilla milk, peanut butter. I make a dinner out of that, plus potato chips, bread with olive oil and parmesan cheese. About 20 minutes later, it comes right back out!

The next 48 hours, I feel like I have done an Ironman. I have been completely purged of any desire to workout and find myself happily on the resting road to recovery with some lingering aches and pains.

But the physical pain will subside. And what’s left is the impression of Ironman in my head and my heart. I find myself replaying parts of it in my head over and over again. Mostly the run, a feeling of being completely on top of myself for such a long distance. It is a beautiful memory that I get to keep forever. It was, truly, one of the best days of my life.

On Monday, we drove down to South Point on the Big Island, the southernmost point in the United States. It’s a beautiful drive along a road lined with lush green grass and powerful otherworldly windmills. We reach the end of the road, park, and walk towards the ocean. The ocean at South Point is tumultuous and erratic, with waves crashing from many directions, clashing, churning into each other and up against black lava rocks. The only sound is the whirring of the wind that whips with force. The sky is blue, filled with cumulous clouds and a warm bright sun. It was a perfect day in the most beautiful place and as I stood there taking it all in I thought about my race and what it meant to me.

I stood looking out in the ocean and realized what an incredible journey it had been. For months, I had heard about how hot, windy, hilly, and hard Kona was. Everything was pointing in the direction of this being a course too big to overcome. But on race day, every step of the way, I kept telling myself that though Kona was big, I could be bigger, I could be bigger and better than the race and in doing so be bigger and better than myself. That is what I believed. And that carried me through every mile of the day. Believe that you can finish strong and you will. Never doubt yourself for one minute, for one mile. You can accomplish anything you set your mind to, you are powerful beyond measure and it's all in your own hands. And sooner than you know it, you’ll find yourself 140.6 miles later crossing a finish line and declared an Ironman.

I’m back at home now and winter has settled early into Illinois. Frost lines the grasses and the heat kicks on in our house. I’ve passed most of the day cleaning the house and eating peanut butter cups. And thinking about Ironman. Maybe this is what that man in Buffalo Springs meant when he said it would get under my skin. I’m washing the floors and thinking what if I went back next time? Would I drop 30 minutes based on experience alone? Could I break 10 hours? Win my age group? What if? Ironman is a race of so many factors and the only thing certain is that next time I would be presented with a whole new set of what if’s and conditions to respond to on race day. So maybe I’ll just settle with this one for now.....for now!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Aloha & Mahalo!

This is my last morning in Hawaii. As I sit here at Lava Java, enjoying an incredible cup of coffee, sitting only a few feet from the ocean, watching the waves roll in, I realize how truly blessed and grateful I am for what has been an incredible journey.

I came to Hawaii to prove to myself that indeed I could finish the Ironman. In doing so, I found out much more about myself and proved much more to myself.

I've thought this a few times - but I believe everyone should do an Ironman, to find out how much it takes, to find out how much you can take and to find your breaking point. And if you choose to do one, go for the big thing, go for broke, and shoot for Hawaii. It's completely possible and it's only a matter of how bad you want it.

I finally have found what it means for the race to get under your skin. It may have taken a day or two but yesterday as stood at South Point, watching the waves crash and rumble from all directions, I thought to myself that I could see myself coming back here one day. Visions, what if's, ideas start crashing in your head, like the waves, and you realize that if you wanted to come back you could because you, like the ocean, have all of the power in the world to go out and get what you want. Yes, I could see myself coming back here one day, next year, coming to take on the top 5 in my age group, to one day break 10 hours, to shoot for the next big thing. I believe the second time you do an Ironman, you could probably take off 30 minutes just on experience alone. Position on the swim, knowing which pace to push on the bike, and running yourself to the edge for longer on the run. It's thoughts like this that make you hungry to come back, that make it crawl under your skin and want to come back for more.

Thanks to everyone for all of the great e-mails and congratulations. It meant a lot to read them this morning and to know that I came to the mind of so many people.

I'm going to sit here and draw out this cup of coffee a little longer and then reimmerse myself in the real world back at home. Until then, aloha and mahalo!

Friday, October 20, 2006

Aloha Is In The Air

I'm sitting here at Lava Java, drinking coffee, watching the waves roll in, and getting ready for Ironman.

It's almost here!

Yesterday was a very busy day. Jennifer, Jerome and I started with a short swim in the ocean - still choppy and still cloudy. I found some man to draft off of; he stopped at a buoy, turned around and looked at me and I said I am drafting off of you! He told me that was a good idea! And I agreed - it felt so much easier. So my mantra for tomorrow is to find some feet and just go with the flow!

After some coffee with Meredith and Bert, I headed off to registration. In namedropping news, Norman Stadler was there and he's kind of hot! Registration was very meticuluos, they weigh you and you sit down with your own volunteer that takes you through everything in your race bag. And there was a lot of stuff - mostly bags for this and bags for that.

After lunch, Jennifer, Jerome and I drove the bike course out to Hawi. It is along the Queen K which is black, hot, windy, and lonesome. To your right on the way out is nothing but lava fields and grasses. To your left is a distant view of the ocean. I have to remember to look left, look left! We got out along the way to confirm that yes it was windy and yes it was quite hilly - long, gradual, deceptively steep over a long distance type of hills. This course is not flat! At Hawi, we stopped so Jennifer could stop and Jerome was so patient with the shopping - he must teach Chris how to do that!

On the way back, we drove through the Energy Lab. The pavement is so black in there. It will definitely be a tough run - relentlessly hot!

One thing is for sure - this course is a lot like Buffalo Springs - the hills, the scenery, the run course. So those of you thinking about Hawaii, do Buffalo Springs first to get a taste for it!

More namedropping - we saw Desiree Ficker riding out of town. Sitting at Lava Java yesterday I saw Natascha Badmann and her entourage riding up and down Alii Drive - she was smiling, waving, and as graceful as ever. Michellie Jones walked out of Lava Java, and I only knew it was her because the back of her shirt said her name. Imagine that kind of fame! Where you wear a shirt with YOUR name on it!

The island is definitely buzzing with an energy, something big is building and I think it is the restless bodies of nearly 2000 athletes ready to do an Ironman.

Today I am doing nothing. This is hard because I'm watching loads of athletes run and bike up and down the street. But I believe resting is probably most important today! It is so hot already and there's no sense wearing yourself out, right?

I have to turn in my millions of bags in a few hours - nervewracking because ALL of my stuff needs to be ready to go and I won't see it until the race. I have so much stuff on my bike and in my bags. Expect nothing ,prepare for everything!

I went to the race meeting with Bob Scott, Ironman world champion and record holder - what an honor! He told me to remember the reason I was here - for the race - so stay focused on the program.

I have gotten lots of great advice and good luck wishes from everyone. It is such an amazing atmosphere of positive energy and excitement.

I have also done some fun Ironman shopping, buying two more visors which I need like I need another purse (which I don't need).

Chris is here, and so is Tim and Christina. Tim and Chris went to ride the course today - I'm eager to hear their thoughts.

Tomorrow is show time - I'm so excited to get out there and get it started. Thank you to everyone for all of your support and good luck wishes. I will need them!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Welcome to Ironman!

What a day! The place is just crawling, oozing, buzzing with triathletes! Alii Drive is just one sponsors sign after another and hot fit bodies everywhere!

This morning started around 7 am. I headed down by the pier for a swim with my coach, Jennifer, her husband Jerome, Ashley, and Connie. I looked at the ocean for a few minutes and noticed lots of swimmers already in the water and buoys rocking everywhere. I didn't know those white weighted buoys could move so much! Jennifer told me that she had never seen it so choppy. Since I have never swam in the ocean, I expected a swirling vortex of topsy turvy, wavy gray waves. I had been building myself up for something so uncontrollably wavy and wild that I was relieved to find that once I got in it wasn't that bad! After a few minutes, part of me wanted to stop and shout HEY, I'M SWIMMING IN THE OCEAN! I was really doing it! I think the key will be to do what Karyn Austin said - RELAX in the chop - and to do what Mira says - just keep swimming! I was actually having fun just letting the waves and current move me along. It was interesting every once in awhile to look up to sight and see nothing but another wave! I even swallowed some salt water - not so bad! And it didn't seem to make my stomach sick. I was grateful that Ashley was there because we swam side by side which relaxed me. On the way back, I tried hopping on Jennifer's feet and found it made a HUGE difference in speed without too much more effort. Then I got swum over and lost her feet. Jerome got swum over and swatted at too. Hey guys - save it for RACE DAY!

The only fear that I wasn't able to face was seeing to the bottom. Heavy rains on Monday stirred everything up and the water is very cloudy. It was just like swimming in a midwestern lake. But I know the critters are down there and I will see them come Saturday. I am going to swim again tomorrow so hopefully I'll be able to work through that one!

Afterwards, we walked to breakfast. And to our surprise, Michellie Jones, Heather Fuhr and Lori Bowden were right behind us. I never realized Lori was so teeny tiny!

Jerome was getting squirrely without coffee - he reminded us that it was 1:15 pm at home and he still hadn't had coffee! Wow, when he put it that way I almost screamed. So we walked over to Lava Java for some superb coffee. And we noticed that even Lava Java got in on the IM action - their coffee sleeves were sponsored by Inside Triathlon. And Desiree Ficker was on it too! So I told Jen that was my new goal - for her to coach me to make it on to a coffee sleeve! Can you imagine anything better?

We enjoyed a nice breakfast and Jerome must have ordered the big boy because he had about 3 breakfasts. Wait unti Chris shows up, they can have a breakfast buffet showdown.

Aftewards I went to a Timex focus group, got a FREE watch (Thanks, Timex!) and actually sat next to the beautiful and multi-time world champion Laura Sopheia. I asked her loads of questions (which helmet? which racing suit?) and she gave me great advice and assured me I would have a great race especially if I can run like usual (nice to hear from a champ!).

Upon leaving, I drove away without remembering to take my shorts and top off of the roof which were drying, which was a fabulous idea, until I got 2 miles down Alii Drive and then remembered. I found my shorts stuck on the roof rack but my bra top was 2 miles back in a parking lot. THANK goodness I found it because I had just decided I would race in it!

I went running after that around 11 am. I figured I would get a feel for the heat. I ran down Alii Drive and it was blazing hot, especially with a tailwind at my back and all the traffic. Hawaii needs to plant more Banyan trees because they provide excellent shade! Coming back into the headwind it wasn't so bad. I felt like a Ragbrai hot but I knew that I wasn't even running in the hottest part of the day.

After running, I decided to say hi to my sports chiropractor, Larry Svhilik, (he is on the IM A.R.T - active release thearpy - team) and while I stood there talking with him I started dripping with sweat which is when I realized that I must NOT walk on the marathon - even a slow shuffle would probably be better because when you stop it gets unbearably hot.

I'm about to head down to registration and maybe have some more coffee. After all, I am in the land of coffee and it would be ashame to ignore coffee on it's home grounds!

Monday, October 16, 2006

I Feel The Earth Move

I thought maybe with the race less than one week ago things would get easier. Life would settle down, the taper would settle into my legs, and my nerves would settle too. But that has not been the case. Even before breakfast on Sunday, my stomach ached and I felt dizzy and nauseous. Standing in the kitchen, I went through the entire race, start to finish, writing down what I needed to bring, do, think along the way. Two hours later, I found myself pacing, hot but cold, lightheaded, dry-mouthed, significantly overcaffeinated, and thinking through every big or little situation I might encounter on the Big Island. I kept thinking of things I needed to buy, pack, look up on the internet, a trip to the bank, don’t forget to pack your shoes, where’s your helmet. I was running through the what if’s and the what to do’s when the phone rang. It was my mom.

“You know, there was an earthquake on the Big Island,” she reported.

“No, I didn’t know that,” I replied curiously and surprisingly. Our limited cable channels leave much news uncovered and the fact that we do not have internet at home doesn’t help much either. My mom relayed that earlier that morning the Big Island had been shaken by a 6.6 magnitude earthquake, leaving some landslides and power outages across the islands.

A multitude of questions and scenarios began multiplying in my mind and after a few seconds of having no clue how to answer them I simply said “Well, that figures, doesn’t it?” Years go by with no hitches at Hawaii and the year I decide to show up the whole earth starts crumbling down. I began picturing myself riding down a road littered with rocks while the earth started trembling from aftershocks as I tried to keep my aerobars still. Extreme weather I expected, high winds, heat, humidity, scorching sun, swells, these are things I was looking for. But an earthquake? Didn’t exactly make my list of things likely to happen before or during race day.

“So what are you going to do,” my mom asked anxiously.

“Come Saturday, in Hawaii or not, I will be doing something of an Ironman distance. I don’t care if I have to go to the pool, swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 in my basement, and follow it up with a run, I am doing an Ironman on Saturday,” I promised.

She laughed at that and agreed that all the training should not go to waste, but after the laugh subsided she said, “No, really, what are you doing to do,” this time looking at me firmly, and seriously, like only a mother could, demanding an answer or else.

“All I can do was wait, check the computer tomorrow for any news of race changes, and take it from there,” I said with some semblance of confidence that the race would go as planned.

But my lackadaisical approach didn’t seem to satisfy my mother.

“Are you beginning to think why you are doing this?” she asked with a sense of urgency waiting for an answer to satisfy her needs, to allay her fears, to calm her down from thinking that not only was there risk of her only daughter becoming shark bait but she could also be rumbled into the ocean while standing on quaking land.

“Yes, the thought has crossed my mind,” I replied. In fact, last night as my list of items to pack lengthened and I found myself in Target for the third time in 24 hours, I told myself it would be worthwhile to take some time on the plane to reflect on the reasons I am doing this so I have something to pull from on race day if I happen to find myself fading, doubting, or losing faith.

“I just want to get out there and get it done. I’ve worked so hard,” I admitted, hoping she would understand my drive to achieve this goal no matter how incredible, how increasingly difficult, or how unimaginable it seemed.

“Well your mother is very nervous for you. And your brother is worried about you swimming in the ocean,” she said with sincerity.

I’ve got to admit that I’m worried too. I leave for Hawaii on Tuesday and doing the race is becoming more and more tangible as the time ticks closer. But it’s good to be a little nervous, a little shaken up to remind myself that this race is much bigger than me but inside I know that I can be bigger than myself. And that thought will hopefully carry me through the day.

The Packing Blues

It was around 9 o’clock on Saturday night and I was in the middle of packing for Hawaii when Chris came into the bathroom to tell me he was going to bed.

“Not in here you’re not,” I said pointing out towards our bedroom, “I’ve still got more packing to do.”

He looked at me standing amidst a mess of traveling items, sports gear, clothing, all of the items necessary for a race taking place thousands of miles away. Grabbing his pillow, he happily headed towards the other bedroom. He obviously sensed that it would be awhile before my mess settled down.

Packing had been dragging on for hours, as I kept adding and removing things, thinking through my plan, and trying to prepare for as much as possible. It was a few weeks ago that I had come across a quote from Paula Newby-Fraser about Ironman Hawaii in which she said, “Expect nothing, prepare for everything.” In the past few days, this phrase had become my mantra as I began thinking of every twist and turn in race scenarios, trying to prepare for any and every situation. If I could be prepared, I thought, I could at least control some part of my race, not letting the weather, the wind, or the day get me down. I had a plan for rain, a flat, two flats, dropping my salt tabs, losing food, what to think when looking at the fish in the ocean. And with each plan came a growing list of items I would need to execute that plan over 5,000 miles away.

A few days ago, when the number of items continued to increase and started bursting beyond the seams of my brain, I decided to make an Ironman packing list. At first there was the typical race wear, shoes, socks, gels. Then I added on a toiletries list. Then a general stuff category. And a clothing list. Shoes to bring. A list of grocery items to buy in Hawaii. Weather needs. Coffee cup. Heck, coffee because even though I will be staying on an island known for coffee, you never know if you’ll find yourself on in a dry part of town with no coffee to be found. Lastly, add on a list of things other people have suggested bringing but I’m not sure what I would need it for. After awhile, my list had grown to almost 4 pages of things to bring to Hawaii.

In one suitcase.

On 3 different planes.

At that point, I immediately thought of my standard black suitcase shuffling between 3 different planes en route to Oakland, then Honolulu, and by almighty miracle arriving safely in Kona with all contents in tact. I began to have worry and fears that my suitcase, with everything I need for the race, and for survival away from home, would be routed to Ellenwood, Georgia, just like my time trial bike when it got misrouted in Texas for the Buffalo Springs Lake 70.3 Triathlon. I decided to add brightly colored unmistakably identifiable ribbon for my suitcase to my packing list.

I started pulling things out of my closet, but soon forgot what I had already gotten and what I still needed to get. So I began marking everything in the computer, editing the list with each item. Piles were stacking on the floor filled with everything I would or could need. After going through the whole list, I double-checked and even made another list of things I still needed to gather. In fact, I was starting to feel surrounded by my lists; hand-written, computer generated, post-it notes on top of piles. I needed a list just to manage all of my other lists.

This list-making mania didn’t just stop at gear to pack. I made a list of activities for the entire week – breakfasts to attend, places to be – a list of questions I still needed to ask – which helmet should I wear – information to find on the internet – what time is check out, where is the nearest coffee shop - a list of things to find around the house – chamois butter - things to buy at the store – powder, coffee, Vaseline - things to do the night before the race – cut bars in ½ - things to say to myself if something starts going wrong – relax, refocus, react, recharge - things to say during the run – the faster you run the faster you get it done. I even had a list of things I wanted to do after the race – spend an entire day eating nothing but peanut butter, coffee, ice cream, cookie dough, and frosting, while washing it down with a fruity cocktail.

I still had a lot of work to do.

And there I was, standing in the kitchen, feeling overwhelmed and underpacked, and glanced over at the clock realizing that it was almost 10 pm. I stopped thinking about packing, and traveling, and instead pictured myself in a blue racing suit, running down the road with the sun growing lower in the sky. I knew that in exactly one week, I would be in Hawaii, still on the run course, on route to becoming an Ironman. What had seemed so intangible and so distant for months, was now inching closer and closer and I could see it all happening before my eyes. I laughed knowing that I would likely be in a terrible place of pain, covered in salt, sweat, and sports drink, shuffling through mile after mile. And as I stood visualizing the moment, I realized that at the end of this day, just 1 week away, and 140.6 miles later, I would be an Ironman.