Following breakfast, I climbed back into bed and rested my body for close to an hour as I recited a prayer in my head that starts like this, “Let nothing upset you, Let nothing frighten you…”. With severe weather moving in from the west I committed to surrender, knowing that no matter what lie ahead I trusted that I would be kept safe on the day. I rose about 4:20am and sat in meditation, my final visualization of the day which included plenty of smiles and very little struggle.
I arrived at my bike and as I loaded up my nutrition noticed the absence of my water bottles. Oops, yet another victim of the lackadaisical mind and outcast of my visualizations. Seeing as the 2 pieces that I left out of my meditations were showing up, or not showing up for that matter, I was starting to think that what I visualized for the day just might be coming to fruition. Lots of smiles and very little struggle. I quick stepped myself to the fence and told BJ to ‘GO’ trusting that it would all be fine. I wasn’t concerned and smiled at these little mishaps. With less than 5 minutes before transition closed BJ arrived with my bottles and my bike was officially stocked. Now off to the swim start to collect my chip so that I would officially be in the race.
I seeded myself in the 1:00-1:10 swimmers on the far right which would assure me an inside line and towards the front. My mom had asked me about my goals the night before, she wanted to write them down and keep them close by the computer as she would no doubt be dedicating her entire day to tracking me and calling my sister for support (thanks Suz, job well done!). I told her that I thought I could swim between 1:10 and 1:12, BJ shaking his head in opposition knows, and so do I, that I can swim faster but considering the level of my swim training I thought these were reasonable times. I do sometimes wonder what if I put out more effort in the pool, what if I really focused on my swim? What would that look like? I am a natural swimmer, it comes easily to me and when I’m doing it, especially when I’m in Mirror Lake, there’s no other place I’d rather be. But like most years, my swim training was the least of my hours banked but I felt confident I still had a personal best coming this year.
The gun went off and the rolling start began with the sub 1-hour pack, then my pack but in lieu of following the crowd, I chose to dance and chat with the volunteers. Still thinking I was moving forward I hit the arch and was stopped. I looked up to see the 1:11-1:20 pace sign. Oops, I missed my group but now I was at the front again which is where I always prefer to be so I just chalked that up to divine intervention. Released like a herds of cattle dressed as eels, I hit the water as the words calm, power matched my arms stroke for stroke. I thought about Harry and how much he loved to swim and how much I loved to swim with him in this very lake, just a year ago. I felt love.
Although the rolling start lends to more open water for each swimmer I had lots of contact for the first part of the swim. Arms pushing down my torso, hands slapping my feet, my hands slapping the feet in front of me and my eyes on high alert for aggressive kickers. Despite the inevitable engagement of an IM swim I managed to keep a tight line on the buoys, literally contacting each one as I passed. Then as history has shown in the past, before I knew it I was at the turns and headed back in towards shore. About this time I realized I never started my watch and from that moment, until many hours later, I never had any idea of the time of day or where I was in the race. As long as my chip was recording times for those tracking me, praying for me and hanging on each split to feel calm again I didn’t much care about where I was in time. It was only important to me to stay present and accept everything that would come my way without any resistance. So far so good but then again I was less than a mile into the race.
The rain poured down as I carefully trotted into transition heeding advice from the volunteers to take it slow as a few had already gone down. All plans to stay upright, I carefully made my way to the changing tent where I all of a sudden became invisible, there was no one to help me and for a second I my ego thought poor me, I need help. Then my true self butted in and said “no you don’t, get your shoes on, helmet and get out of here baby”. I ran through transition and heard my number being called down the line as someone ran to get my bike. The day was dark gray but overwhelmingly lined with colorful ponchos and cheers from the crowd. Not thinking about anything but that moment, I was in full joy mode, yelling back at the crowd, laughing and smiling even bigger at every accolade thrown my way. Off on the bike.
I carefully navigated the hairpin turn and narrow, steep downhill of the bike exit and turned onto route 73. I immediately started in with my nutrition plan knowing that conditions like this could lead to calorie abandonment. At about this same time, unbeknownst to me, the race director would be making a call to pull over 700 athletes from the water in lieu of severe lightening. I was fortunate enough to get my 2 loops in although in the end only one would be calculated in our finish time but I wasn’t thinking about anything at this point except every safe pedal stroke I managed to complete. I started up the first climb and noticed that I was already chilly. With a technical 6 mile descent ahead I returned to the prayer that started my day. “Let nothing upset me, let nothing frighten me…” The thunder was deafening with huge cracks in the sky that sounded like they were right above me while impressive streaks of lightening split into multiple lines straight ahead and off to my right. It was then I remembered a verse from the Bhagavad Gita that I had read just a few nights ago in my warm, dry hotel room. It is when Krishna is revealing himself to Arjuna and says, I am the heat of the sun, I hold back the rain and release it. Anything can happen, just stay on this bike, trust you will be kept safe and know that this weather can change. I couldn’t see much, just a few feet in front of me then I started to notice the yellow signs warning a steep descent ahead. “Ok, here we go”.
Not far into the downhill did I start to shiver, I tried to stay relaxed but my upper back was tightening up as my body tried to stay warm. My hands started to feel weak and my fingers stiffened. I feathered my brakes as best I could but my speed continued to increase as the resistance of the pads to my wheels were greased with slick moisture. I was speeding down the mountain, navigating the technical turns, praying and shivering in a way that I can’t ever remember. “Let nothing upset me, let nothing frighten me…”. I kept on with the prayer, stayed as relaxed as I could and very focused on the task at hand which was to get to Keene safely.
I sat down under the tent, out of the rain and shook. “Do you want arms?”, asked the volunteer. I looked confused. “In your trash bag, do you want arms or just a head like that woman”, pointing the to athlete next to me, her head sticking out of a trash bag, lips blue and eyes devoid of expression. I opted for arms and surgical gloves. Then a volunteer put her sweatshirt over my shoulders and asked if she could say a prayer for me. She asked god to keep me safe and warm me with his loving arms.
Another athlete came under the tent, then another. Some just stopping for trash bags and heading right out again. The rain continued to pour down and my body continued to shake with no signs of letting up. At this point, I didn’t believe it was possible for my body to recover and felt my ego trying to convince me that my day was over. I asked about what happened if I stopped and to even hear those words leave my mouth felt wrong. I followed up that question with stating how energetic I felt and that I was in good spirits. I wanted to go on but I just couldn’t stop shaking. “Just wait” one of the volunteers said, “just wait and see what happens”. One thing I’ve learned from my practice and teach in my yoga classes is that when we can slow down enough to notice what is happening within we can choose the patience to stay with it until it passes. So I waited.
About 30 minutes later I stood up and announced, “I’m going”. “You’re going?!?!” a few of the volunteers said in unison. “I’m going” I reaffirmed. “How far is the next aid station, 10 miles?”
One of the volunteers, who clearly had a physical limitation that made it look as though walking was very difficult and I can only imagine impossible to ride a bike said, “It’s about that”. Then he gave me my motivation to continue on past that aid station. He said, “If you get there and you keep going, when you pass by here again you have to yell to me and say ‘Ben, I’m making it!’”, he waited then said, “I’ll be listening for you.”
I stayed diligent to my nutrition plan and took a little extra during the 1st loop of the bike knowing that I burned many unexpected calories trying to stay warm. Before I knew I was cruising back into town in the heat of the sun, laughing and yelling to the crowd, “I’m back from the dead!”. I saw my brother, sister-in-law and nephew who were clearly caught up in the contagious energy of the day. I turned into special needs and saw Beej and Mom and Dad G. I reapplied an obscene amount of chamois cream then stopped for a kiss before heading out on the 2nd loop. I told them briefly about my experience as my first loop had been over 4 hours but there was no way my 2nd loop would be the same. I was feeling ridiculously good and full of energy.
The 2nd loop came and went fast. The sun was shining, all the athletes I interacted with were in good spirits as we joked about the insanity of the morning. I bombed the descents trusting the dry pavement beneath me like never before. I couldn’t get back to that bike aid station fast enough, I couldn’t wait to yell “Ben, I’m making it!”. And when I did, his smile was still the biggest I can remember all day as the entire crew cheered me on as I passed. “You saved my life this morning”, I yelled, “Thank you, I’m out here because of you all!”
Emotion rose and I felt gratitude for each one of them. The woman who prayed over me, the man who slid the trash bag over my helmet, my fellow athlete who rested his head on my shoulder and Ben who tucked the surgical gloves into my arm warmers ensuring a tight seal for warmth. They cared for me in a time when I couldn’t care for myself and I was reminded as I passed them by that this is why we are here. Often forgotten in our daily life, in our pursuit for more and lost in the middle of the grind, we are here to care for each other. To love one another without condition or expectation and with this feeling of connection I fell into my simple mantra of Om and found myself completely at peace.
Around mile 4 I started to feel pain in my feet, mostly my toes, a nerve pain that I’m all too familiar with but instead of indulging it I held focus on Om, the eternal vibration of the universe. With 100% focus on that there was nothing left to focus on pain. I thought about the Gita again. The Field and the Knower. The field being everything in nature, my body, my fellow athletes and the knower, my true self. The witness. I decided to simply watch it all without judgement and with acceptance. There is no such thing as pain. Everything is inherently neutral it is only pain or suffering, good or bad when we attach meaning to it. I just let it all be and took it in, one foot strike at a time.
I hit the turn around and headed back to town. Looking at the mile markers I felt slight envy for those whose markers were reading Mile 22 while mine read Mile 9. “Just get into town, hit the turn around and then those markers will be yours”, I thought, “but right now, be in this breath”. I turned back onto route 73 knowing there were just a few miles to town, into the crowds, the collective consciousness of love and support. I stayed steady. I ran up the steep ascents back into town allowing the overwhelming roar of the crowd to carry me. I looked around, connected with eyes, slapped hands. The Om in my head changed to Love.
I was nearing the turn around and as exhaustion started to set in I remembered a quote from my last blog post. “I hit the turn around, announce that I’m heading to the finish and although my exhaustion is startling I know that I am far more powerful than my physical body.”
“No more turn arounds, no more out and backs!”, I yelled as I ran around the last orange cone screaming and laughing down Mirror Lake Drive towards the finish. I slapped every hand, I looked into eyes, I felt so much emotion rise as I thanked god for the day I had been given. I thought about Harry and how painful it had been to watch his cancer grow and his body fall away. I remembered the great teachings of compassion, acceptance and patience that he imparted to me this spring, all the while training for this epic day. I brought my hands together in prayer and looked to the sky thanking him for his grace.
I turned right, I turned left, I was in the oval, I heard my brother, I slapped his hand and headed towards the bright lights. I heard my name and I saw the finish line. I raised my arms with great strength to rouse the crowd and let the love of our divine connection carry me over the line to my fastest Ironman yet 13:03:26 and an overall personal best marathon of 4:33:37.
This one was for you my love.
Can’t wait to cheer you to your beautiful finish in 2015!