How I became an Ironman: my adventure

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On July 28th 2013, I became an Ironman. I don’t want to write the usual post race report, showing off my times, or how good I was. I write this as a sort of psychoanalysis of myself. The journey that brought me to: “Alessia, you are an Ironman!” was long and full of different feelings and experiences. But, surprisingly, what happened to me in the days right after the race was a sort of denial. The more I was reminded of such a great achievement, the more I would distance myself and try to forget about the race. I didn’t know why; I was almost upset with myself because I wasn’t capable of enjoying every minute of that post race high, which, as I have heard, lasts for weeks! Well, in my case, the first three days after the race were based on soreness, and after that…oblivion. Only now, after a few months, I start to realize what a great adventure it was, and I am ready to share my emotions.

Fall/Winter 2012.

I had a very positive end to the 2012 tri-season, with my new coach Heather who trained me well for a couple of Half Ironman, and I must say that I enjoyed the distance. I was (still) 39 in 2012, and for those of you who have known me for a while, I had promised myself a special gift for my 40th birthday: the full Ironman. This was a long time ago. First (and this is really the first thing you have to do if you ever, ever, ever want to do an Ironman) I talked to my husband, Mark. There is no way to engage in a long, highly demanding, time consuming training period without the support of your family. You will want to kill yourself after awhile if you don’t feel supported. So, my husband’s reaction was quite “mild”. I think he knew I was going in that direction. The only thing he asked me was: if you do this, because you want to do this, I don’t want to hear any complaints when you come back from a 6 hour ride, or a 3 hour run, or whatever insane workout you will have to do. Fair enough, don’t you think? So, I promised.

Now, if you know a little about triathlon, all the most popular races in the world sell out the same day they open up for registration, which means one year in advance. So, for example, IM Lake Placid or IM Mont Tremblant were long gone. IM Louisville is usually the last to sell out (among the North America races), because it is darn hot out there and the swim is never wetsuit legal (ah ah ah! Keep on reading this, and then you understand why I am laughing). I thought, well, it is too late, maybe another time, maybe it is not supposed to be.

In the same period, we were informed that my husband’s British cousin was going to get married in England, on August the 3rd, and we were invited. I don’t like going to parties and being concerned about what I eat and drink, whether there is a pool, where I can run, or if I can rent a bike. Trust me, a triathlete in training mode can be unbearable to the nth power, so to speak. So, if an A-race had to be, it had to be before August. I took another look at the IM website, focusing on the European race list. After all, we had to fly to Europe anyway! Magically, I saw that IM Switzerland (Zurich) was the weekend before the wedding, and a smile appeared on my face: there was still a chance I could do an Ironman in 2013.

Now you think, great! You register right away! Well, I must say that I was opening up that page every single day in October and November, but I couldn’t find the guts to click on the registration page. I had all the possible doubts. It is expensive, doing an Ironman. It is time consuming. It is a HUGE commitment. I have heard of people training for an Ironman and forgetting that they have appointments or that they have to pick up the kids at school (just kidding on this last one!!!). But it is true that it is a life-sucking spiral. After all, you have to handle an average of 13-14 hours training per week, in the middle of work, family, friends, food shopping, cooking, eating and sleeping (the last two? Very, very important).

Around the middle of November, I had signed up for an 8k race here in Philadelphia and a dear friend of mine, an Ironman and elite triathlete on her way to the pro card, nicely offered to pace me. We went to pick up our bib the evening before, and I was telling her how indecisive I was. She told me: listen up, just start to fill up the credit card blanks on the registration page, do one step at the time. The same night, I did what she said. I wrote all the personal information, I clicked on next, I entered all the credit card information, I clicked on next, and I was ready to see some sort of “review your order” or something similar, something that would have given me enough time to make myself an herbal tea and think about it. Instead, what I got was this:

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My jaw dropped! I think it is like when you go bungee jumping and you are still finding your motivations to jump, you are there but not quite ready yet. And suddenly somebody pushes you…

Well, I guess I am going to Zurich!

 

Training time.

Coach Heather was really excited for me, as well as my dear friend Julia, in Italy. Was I excited? I would say 50% excited, 50% scared to death. I took December off from training, just some swimming and recreational exercises. I love taking December off, best time: I can enjoy the holidays, shopping and decorating for Christmas. Mark and I are crazy for Christmas. In the meantime, I also convinced a friend of mine, Lisa, and her husband, Martin, to race IM Switzerland with me, so I knew I would have partners in crime.

Then January came and here you go, I started training. The first big change in my routine was joining the master swim team Fins here in Philadelphia. Thanks Heather for insisting and pushing me! Best investment I could have ever done. The reason why I was exceedingly nervous about joining a Masters team resides in the fact that I have never been a strong swimmer, and the swim was by far my worst leg. I thought that I would have embarrassed myself in the pool with seriously fast swimmers, but I followed my coach’s advice: as usual, she was right. First of all, I could find the lane that was more appropriate for my pace. In the first two months, I must admit that I was finishing every session exhausted. I remember going home at 9pm, with just the bare minimum energy to be able to eat. But I didn’t give up, and after a while I was able to actually lead my lane, and I also moved up one lane a few times. And I made a lot of new friends. Also, I rejoined RPM classes at Breakaway Bikes. Best thing to do in the winter, regarding biking. It is one thing riding your bike alone on the trainer in your basement, and another thing riding the trainer with other people, on a power-based trainer system, with a coach that yells at you. Totally different focus. The worst would come on the winter weekends, when I had these medium/long rides (3-4 hours) and I couldn’t go out because of the weather. Result: a lot of Netflix movies on the trainer, and a lot of long chats with my parents in Italy on Skype.

Then the volume started to grow … I had at least 3-4 double workouts per week for the whole spring and summer, which meant a lot of 5:30am alarms in my routine. When you work during the day, you can squeeze one workout in the early AM, and one in the evening. The rest of your spare time will be for eating and resting. I am not an early morning person, everybody knows it. When the alarm went off, I would sit at the edge of the bed, cursing at myself, looking at the dark outside, looking at Mark peacefully sleeping, and I would have cried, so desperate I was to go back to bed and sleep. But for me there was a ride instead, or a run, or a swim. But after awhile, it didn’t bother me much. I became used to it, and the sense of accomplishment and the boost of energy that I gained back was priceless.

This was the time I really enjoyed. I met so many people who were also training for other Ironman races; we could talk, share fears, train together. It truly was the best time. It is always good to feel part of a family, of a special group of brave folks, who were devoting all their weekends in repetitive exercises, giving up social lives, entertainment, etc. I spent almost no weekend nights with my husband, as he would go out with friends and I would go to bed. No drinking, a glass of wine here and there, a beer here and there, but nothing after 9pm, otherwise in the morning I would feel drunk! But again, going out on a Saturday and Sunday morning and seeing so many people doing what you do, gives you confidence and keeps you going. I miss that group identity. And what about open water swims? One of my favorite activities. We are lucky to have a local organization that rents out a lake for open water swims every Saturday morning, with kayaks and buoys, so we can really practice a race scenario. I love it there, even if I am not training for anything; I just like going to swim and chill.

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Lake Ochanickom, in Medford, NJ. Lots of open water swims, in any weather condition: practice to be fearless!

My training also included a couple of races, just to shake off the dust! A local sprint in early May that went well, and a 70.3 in June that was a disaster. I was quite disappointed after that race. A month to the Ironman and I had my personal worst in a 70.3: not encouraging. But I learned my lesson: if your mind is not 100% with your body, don’t even think about it! I was having some job-related problems, and that definitely showed. So after the race, I took a few days to recover, and then I had all my crucial heavy volume workouts.

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NJ Devilman, sprint, May 2013. Second in my new 40-44 AG.

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No happy face at 70.3 Syracuse, NY. June 2013.

 

The craziness.

In the month of June and July the craziness reached its peak, as well as the heat and humidity. I would go out for 100 miles on my bike, with a run-off the bike, and the following day I would run for 3 or 3.5 hours. You might ask, how is that possible?–same question that I would ask myself, after reading my training schedule. One of the secrets is the eat/sleep combo. I don’t recall any other period in my life where I have been eating so much. Almost every two hours, I was hungry. This is one of the biggest perks: you eat, eat, eat, but you are still lean. Good stuff! And at night, around 10.30pm, I really, really, really needed to go to bed.

In order to go over these long workouts, I looked for group activities, i.e. I would look for bike tours in the area, or organized bike rides, or open water swims (I already talked about that). It is still hard to ride 100miles in the heat, but definitely more fun if you are with other people. Here some pictures of fun times with friends.

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With Mark, and friends Alex and Renee, on top of one of the hills in the Blue Ridge Mountains, VA, May 2013. Please, check the elevation profile of our ride…

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At the century ride “Tour de cure”, fundraiser for diabetes, with Nutrition-in-motion team, in Ambler, PA. June 2013.

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At the “2.4 miles challenge swim”, fundraiser for Aids, in Chesapeake bay, MD. July 2013.

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100-mile ride with friends in Valley Forge, PA, and more. See hubby escorting me, while friend Anh is taking the picture. July 2013.

 

The heat and some nightmares.

Although I was sticking with my schedule and I think I only missed one workout over the course of seven months, I still had the feeling that I wasn’t ready. In particular, I was haunted by nightmares about the marathon leg of the Ironman. Although I have run marathons before, I could not conceive how it would have been possible to run 26.2 miles after a 2.4 mile swim and a 112 mile bike. I remember I would wake up in the middle of the night, restless, anxious. I couldn’t believe that I was going to make it.

These fears were also aggravated by the heat and humidity here in Philly. I would wake up early on the weekends, as well, in order to have my long runs done before the super high temperatures, but still, it was quite unbearable. I bought a camel bag in order to survive my self-supported long runs. Additionally, I would have two small bottles for electrolytes, plus a lot of gels … I remember on one of those runs, 5 minutes into the workout with all this equipment on me, I tripped and fell on the sidewalk. Of course, I cursed at myself, first, checked if I was seriously injured, second, then checked if anybody had seen me, third. So embarrassed! See pictures of myself with some scratches and hopping into a cold bathtub right after the run, still dressed, so hot it was!

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After one of “those” long runs, including a “kiss” to the sidewalk

Definitely my runs suffered because of the weather. I couldn’t deliver what I wanted to. One day I was so frustrated and hot, with stomach cramps, and I threw up. I got home and that was the first time that I broke my promise with Mark: I did complain, actually I cried. I was really frustrated and tired, probably low in sugar, I thought I couldn’t make it, I thought all the efforts were not worthy. All the possible negative scenarios were lining up in my head. I don’t have pictures of me in that moment, but I can tell you that I was crying while leaning on the kitchen sink; this is what I remember.

 

Zurich (yes, that city in Switzerland with nice cool weather…)

After being tortured by the heat in Philly, we were ready–trust me, READY, to head out to Zurich, where we were expecting to find cooler weather. First, I had to deal with the whole “packing-your-bike” thing. I got a very useful lesson from my friend Richie at Philadelphia Bike Smith, so I was able to repeat it on my own.

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One, two, three, and the bike is ready.

Our flight was on the Tuesday before the race. I wanted to arrive there a few days before the race in order to get acquainted with the city, get rid of the jet lag, etc. Once arriving at the airport in Philadelphia, I was really nervous for my bike, foreseeing that something could go wrong. Everything went smoothly, however, except for the fact that you have to pay a $200 flat fee when you fly with your bike, but I was aware of that.

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In front of our house, waiting for the taxi, and at the check in, ready to roll!

In Zurich, we had booked an apartment through AirB&B, shared with Lisa and Martin. Zurich is one of the most expensive cities in the world, so we thought that an apartment would be a good idea: less expensive than hotels, and we could cook and eat in and avoid restaurants. The location was quite convenient for both visiting downtown and getting to the race site. Also, Zurich has a very efficient public transportation system, so you can’t go wrong.

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Snapshots of our cozy apartment in Zurich

The only thing we didn’t account for was the heat wave that was hitting Europe exactly that week. So when we arrived, we immediately realized that our dreams of cold and crispy air were, as a matter of fact, just dreams. Panic! We were continuously checking the weather forecast every ten minutes on our iPhones and iPads to see if there was going to be any change, but apparently the peak was supposed to hit exactly on the weekend. After all I had gone through with the heat in Philadelphia, I felt very disappointed and frustrated. At the same time, friends who were going to compete in IM Lake Placid (NY), which was the same day as IM Zurich, were posting on Facebook comments of lovely 70F weather, perfect for racing. It was quite hard to believe. Of course, it is well known that when it rains it pours! So, when we opened my bike box to put the bike back together, we noticed that it had been inspected by TSA. They left the notice inside the box. But they also took very good care to lose a critical piece!!! See that black oval piece, in the picture below, that keeps the seat post in place? Exactly! It was missing. In general, I would have panicked, badly. But I tried to use all my karma and save mental energies for the race. pieceAnyway, I was kind of boiling internally, I could feel the tension in such a way that the jet lag wasn’t even bothering me much. With the help of Lisa and Martin, we called a lot of bike stores in Zurich, but they either didn’t carry Trek (my bike brand), or they didn’t carry triathlon bikes. I started to make phone calls to the States, to alert my friend Richie and see if he could find the piece and have it shipped overseas. Then I also called my dad, because my parents were coming to see the race, so I thought that if they could find the piece somewhere, then they could have brought it to me. Finally, we called a bike store not far away from our apartment that magically carried my exact type of bike. The owner was so nice to actually take the piece off the only Trek Speed Concept that he had in store, and order a replacement part. We didn’t even think twice: we put running shoes on and we literally ran to the store (with the credit card in my pocket!!). I was relieved, and the jet lag now started to kick in.

I used the first days to get acquainted with the city, grocery shops, public transportation, and race site. Zurich is a very beautiful city, clean, peaceful, even romantic. The race site seemed very well organized. And finally I got to see where the famous Australian exit of the swim leg was going to be. We swam in the beautiful lake and the water was really clear. Of course the water temperature was over the limit for a wetsuit legal swim, and we expected that the race officials would have enforced that. In fact, an official email arrived on Friday night. This explains pretty well how hot it was. To have the officials saying “No wetsuit” even two days before the race meant that there was no hope that temperatures would drop. At the athlete meeting, the race director warned us about the crazy temperatures and he literally said: even if you have a race time in mind, just throw it out of the window. Well, I think there isn’t anything more to add. At that point, we just laughed about it, we stopped the frantic check of weather updates, and my mind got calmer than before. I mean, what can you possibly do? You just have to play the game with the cards you have.

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View from the top of a church

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Swim course passed under that bridge on the left, and Australian exit (on the left) and dive in the lake again (on the right)

My parents arrived on Friday, and I saw my mother-in-law who was in Zurich as well, staying with a friend of hers. Then Saturday afternoon came and I started to prep my stuff. I diligently stuffed my three bags, pinned the bib to my race belt (including my VPMeC pin), double checked my nutrition plan, and filled my water bottles with electrolytes. Nothing improvised. My plan was based on months of experiments, until I found what worked for me. Finally, some cheerful details: I had some inspirational quotes on my bike frame, and some others in a plastic bag for the run portion. I checked in my bike in the late afternoon, quickly got back home for a nice and easy dinner and carb-loading, and then off to bed relatively early, since the alarm was set to go off at 4am. Ouch!

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Bib and bags are ready

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Reminding the miles where aid stations are, and bike inspirational quote.

 

The race day.

Breakfast was standard: my cereals sprinkled with granola, peanut butter toast, orange juice and coffee; then, off to the train station, with some butterflies in the stomach and sleepy eyes.

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At the train station, waiting for a very early train to get to transition.

Once I got to transition, I went to my bike spot to finish the organization of my nutrition, bottles and other stuff, carefully divided into a bike bag and run bag. I left a gel out for before the swim, as per my usual routine. I borrowed a pump for the bike tires, inflating a bit less than usual because of the hot asphalt. I started walking towards the swimming start, I said bye to Mark, and I saw my dad, too. I didn’t see my mom. I asked my dad and he said she was in the bathroom. The fact that I didn’t see her didn’t bother me much at that point, but if you keep on reading, you will understand better why I am stressing this detail.

Once we reached the swimming start, we had time to feel the water and practice our stroke a little bit. With Lisa and Martin, we tried to find a less crowded spot where to start, but with 2500 people, it wasn’t easy. I had my gel, and I found myself surprisingly calm. Finally we somehow approached the water line and three two one…I started my Ironman adventure.

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At the swim practice before the start.

The swim was two loops, not exactly overlapping because of the Australian exit on the small island. If you have ever tried a mass start in a triathlon, you know what I am talking about. If not, I will try to explain. Imagine 2500 people getting in the water at the same time and trying to funnel towards the same spot: the first buoy. You can be smart and experienced, but inevitably it quickly becomes a mess (see the pictures below, just to have an idea!). I couldn’t really swim properly; I was kicked and elbowed so many times, at some point even in my jawbone. But all the swims in open water gave me confidence, so I never panicked or stopped to breathe: I just fought back. Only at the end of the second loop could I really stretch the stroke. Given this long battle, plus the fact that we were not wearing wetsuits, I knew my time wasn’t going to be my best.

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The swim mass start: this is how it looks.

I went to transition ready for the longest ride of my life (so far!). The course was two loops, with the first part along the lake and flat, and the second part hilly and really technical, for cyclists! On the flat part, although I knew I could go faster, I stuck with my coach’s advice and tried to stay in zone 2, especially because of the heat. With those temperatures, I could perceive that any small increase of output power was raising my heartbeat. The course is really beautiful. There was a point, after a sneaky turn, where we were overlooking the lake from up high, and it was so breathtaking that it came spontaneously to say out loud “that’s beautiful!” Back on the flat part, I was heading to Heartbreak Hill, where I knew from past years’ YouTube videos that spectators gather and cheer. In fact, it was awesome. Mark was there, positioned for good pictures, and my dad was there, too. He ran alongside with me. I begged him not to touch me because I was afraid to be disqualified. Triathlon is a solo sport in every sense: you are not allowed to receive any sort of external help. That hill was fantastic. It was like those bike races, like the Giro or the Tour de France, when you see these climbers tunneling through the crowd. You don’t believe me? See these pictures.

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Making my way through the crowd on Heartbreak Hill.

When I saw my dad, and again, not my mom, my mind started to elaborate. Where is she? Is she ok? Maybe something bad happened, maybe she is in the hospital and my dad doesn’t want to tell me so as to not scare me. I know it sounds unrealistic, but a stressed mind can reach very dark spaces. On my way back from Heartbreak Hill, ready to start the second loop, I was wondering why my mom wasn’t there and if I had to worry about her. Then I remembered a video I had watched the night before, of this guy (I think he was an endurance coach) talking to his athletes before IM Lake Placid some years before. You can find tons of video about Ironman on YouTube: inspirational, educational, I-know-it-all types. But this was both funny and catchy. This guy, in his sort of arrogant way, was instructing his athletes on how Ironman is just a matter of execution. He pointed out very few points. The first: are you at mile 18 (of the marathon)? Meaning: you are swimming and you see small groups going for a surge, are you going to follow them? No, you are not at mile 18. You are on the bike and you see these 60 year-old men passing you on hills, are you going to race them? No, because you are not at mile 18. You are at the beginning of the run and you see people sprinting around you, what do you ask yourself? Am I at mile 18? No. Then, when you are at mile 18, if you have it, go for it, push it. This is particularly true for first timers. The second important execution cue was: is this inside my box? Meaning: oh, my girlfriend/boyfriend wanted me to reserve a table at that favorite Chinese restaurant but it was all booked, now he/she is going to be pissed. Is this something that you can solve or take care of during the race? Answer: nope! So, the second execution cue was: just think of the things that belong to your box today, everything else is outside the box. So, magically I remembered this second cue and I executed it: even if something had happened to my mother, I couldn’t do anything for her in that moment. I know, it sounds awful, maybe it is, but hey! That wasn’t in my box that day.

The second loop of the bike was quite tough to be honest, and it wasn’t for a lack of fitness, but it started to be the middle of the day, and I can swear I thought I was melting. There was a hill, called the Beast (encouraging, right?), which at that point was completely in the sun. And it was long. Focus and courage, what else can you do? Back on the flat part, along the lake, I would have begged for a coffee. The heat was taking me, and I still had to go through Heartbreak Hill for the second time. But guess what? That time I saw my mom! I was so happy, I saw her under the shade of a wall, trying to get some break from the heat. I am pretty sure that, unlike my dad who was super excited for me, she was just thinking that her only daughter was going through hell and she probably couldn’t stand the view. Poor parents, it must have been hard on them, too. In fact, Mark caught them during naptime…

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Parents and well deserved rest in the shade

After the last Heartbreak Hill, I headed back to transition. 112miles done, with a lot of time to think about myself, my childhood on the farm, my grandparents, the scenery, people going to the beach, kids playing, my 2013, being 40, my future. It is a long time, if you want to do an Ironman be sure to get along well with yourself!

In transition, I put myself together to reach the run bag, and load myself with gels; some extra sunscreen lotion on my face, my inspirational quotes in my back pocket, and I was ready to click “run split” on my Garmin watch. What can I say? I told you already about my nightmares about the marathon, how I couldn’t see myself able to run it after the swim and bike. Well, as soon as I started running I realized that I didn’t have to think about “the marathon” only as a running event 26.2 miles long. It is just another part of your race: call it part III. Just keep on running, don’t count the miles, stay focused, and at some point it will be over. I felt good, except for some GI issues that had me stop a couple of times at the port-a-potty. During the bike I had to change a little bit my caloric intake: fewer solids and more gels because of the heat. With those temperatures the digestion was more difficult, so eating a peanut butter jelly sandwich was taking a lot of blood from my legs towards my stomach. As a result, I ingested a large quantity of gels, and apparently my stomach was starting to complain. Except for those two stops that lost me some time, I was feeling relatively good. At every loop, I saw Mark, my parents and mother-in-law. As you can see from the pictures, I was mostly smiling…ok, more during the first two loops, a little less later…

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Smiling during the first two loops of the run

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A little less smiling…

Since the weather decided to be crazy, around half way through the marathon, grey clouds covered the sky and a nasty wind picked up. You could see the rain coming. I must say that it was blissful when it came, and it definitely made it easier on us. During the end of the third loop I started “to feel it” (meaning…the wall!). I was walking through the aid stations, but I made a point: no more than 2 minutes walking for every 10 minutes running. Making these patterns helps you a lot to avoid the slippery slope of “I will just walk till the end”. I had that sort of experience at Syracuse 70.3, where my mind wasn’t even thinking about patterns. So, I was sure I wasn’t going to do the same here. That worked well for me, because I never really felt that I wasn’t going to make it. I knew it was just a matter of time.

Speaking of time, I had a goal in mind, of course, but after the athlete meeting I just erased it from my mind. In fact, I wasn’t racing against the clock; I used my watch mostly to keep my heart rate under control. Anyway, my original goal was sub 13 hours, and placing within the first 20 of my age group. So, having started at 7am, in order to finish in 13 hours, I should have crossed the line by 8pm. In the last loop of the marathon, I looked at my watch and I saw 7:15pm. At that point, I immediately started to make calculations on how many miles I had left, and how long it would take me to cover them. So, with all my remaining energy I started pushing it, now with a specific goal: run as fast as I could. In the end, I made it. After 12 hours, 52 minutes, and 46 seconds, I crossed the finish line and became an Ironman, placed 11th in my age group.

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Best picture ever!

I had planned the finish entrance months ago. I asked my parents to bring an Italian flag and I brought the American one. I wanted to cross with both flags because I am Italian, but am grateful to America where I have been welcomed and live a good life, full of love from my husband and his family, and our friends. So my dad waited for me in the last meters before the finish line, and he passed me the flags. I saw my husband and I finally lost my focus, my nerves broke down making me cry, cries of joy. Then I rejoined with Martin and Lisa, my parents and my mother-in-law.

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Nerves breaking down and releasing all the tension in tears of joy.

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After the finish, with my iron friends Martin and Lisa, and my iron parents

Do you want to know what was my first thought afterwards? I am not going to do this again! Apparently, Martin and Lisa had the same thought. Funny, right? I could barely walk straight and my stomach was definitely upset. I went to the tent to get my street clothes bag, and very slowly I got changed. There was free food for the athletes; I put something on the plate, but the vision of food made me feel sick. My parents were eating pizza, which is notoriously my favorite food, but I couldn’t stand the view. It was nice to lay down on my mom’s lap and be cuddled.

Very slowly we all started to make our way back to the train station after getting our stuff out of transition. Back at the apartment, I showered, and was ready to go to bed, with a very strange feeling of accomplishment, which was fighting with the soreness all over. I was an Ironman, after all, Dammit!

 

Post race reflections.

For three days after the race, sitting on the toilet was tough, going downstairs a misery. I had to take painkillers. We also had to go to the airport to catch our plane to England. I guess the fact that Mark and I were now busy doing something else (getting to Sussex by public transportation, figuring out where to sleep, etc.) didn’t leave me much time to think about myself. Then the wedding time came, and time with family: it wasn’t my time, and I buried all the feelings deep inside me. I don’t like showing off in general, so I wasn’t even mentioning what I had just accomplished. Then we went to London, and we walked, walked, walked, visiting many places.

What I mean is that I didn’t have time to sit down and think about the race, what it meant to me, what it left me feeling inside. When I got back to Philadelphia, I was happy. I wanted to go back to swim with Fins, to still be part of the adventure. Yes, I think the reason why it took me so long to sit down and externalize my feelings is my sense of nostalgia. I don’t know if you understood it from this report, but the best part for me was the crescendo of training towards the race, the people I met, the events I was part of. It really was an adventure, a new experience for me. So, I think instead of having the post race “high,” I was just being nostalgic. I read an interesting article about post Ironman depression. I am not depressed in the medical sense. Actually, I enjoyed the freedom of going out again with my lovely husband, staying up late, having one (or two) drinks, sleeping in. But sometimes, when I am alone and I look back, I see a great life-adventure. And I smile, with a tear.

 

Special thanks to:

  • My lovely husband Mark Stehle and my friend Julia Jones for the support, and for helping me in editing this essay.
  • My parents and my in-laws for always cheering me and making me feel like I could do it!
  • My coach Heather Leiggi: I know it is her job, but she definitely walked me through this, gently and with no injuries.
  • VPMeC ladies, for their enthusiastic, funny, unconditional support.
  • All my friends, to whom I said many “no, I can’t”.
  • All my tri-friends, for useful suggestions.
  • The Fins coaches, for being “tough”.
  • My T3 triathlon club family and my friend Anh Dang, for sharing fears and joys.