There's a first time for everything. At least that's what I told myself a year ago when I signed up for this race. It seemed so far away at the time, like it would really never get here. I signed up, got this great training plan in place with advice from friends, fellow triathletes, some pro's, my coach, some running coaches, pretty flawless plan really.
The training was... pretty much horrible. I don't know if you've ever really trained for an Ironman, really trained. It was countless hours alone on the bike, running, swimming per week. Cold, rain, wind; didn't matter you still had to go put the work in. For something that seemed SO far away. Then come the injuries. The strains, the aches and pains, and the worst part of all, the dreaded broken ankle about with about two months to go in training. Somehow with a lot of pushing and support and encouragement from friends and family I made it though the training. With medical support from the best people in the world (thanks Dr. Blackman and Shelby), I even managed to get through the stupid broken ankle.
Then comes the costs. Airfare, hotel, food, tri bike transport, all the crap you have to ship there. Of course once you're there, you HAVE to go buy all the Ironman crap at the tent. Thats another couple hundred you didn't bank on. But... once in a lifetime you get to do your first Ironman I guess.
For those of you that haven't been studying the weather in New York like a total madman for the entire summer, you wouldn't know that this has been one of the driest and hottest on record. Well.. dry is good news. Being from San Francisco, and being a weenie, anything under 65 is cold, and anything above 65 is hot. So when I got here and found out that it was going to be 90 and sunny... that was going to suck. Got to Lake Placid, checked the weather... Friday 86 and sunny, Saturday 86 and sunny, Sunday 86 and thunderstorms all day. Seriously? You have to be kidding. Well, nothing I can do now except try and mentally prepare to be wet for... somewhere between 12 and 15 hours.
Like with all of my races that start at 7... I woke up at the entirely reasonable hour of 3:20AM. God I hate that hour. That hour should not even be invented. Got up and started eating. Ate oatmeal, a banana, coffee, a PBJ bagel and some gatorade. Luckily.. I got to do my business with mother nature before the race started. The hotel owner literally drove us to the starting line.. now THATS customer service. For the record anyone doing IMLP, I highly recommend The Maple Leaf Inn. Barb and Rod are the nicest people ever.
Got to the lake with 2500 of my best friends and... stood around for an hour or so. Finally the time came to don the wetsuit and get ready to swim. Now I've done a lot of triathlon races in my life, but never one with a mass start like this. I'm a pretty solid swimmer so I always start at the front. It didn't seem to mean anything in this. I still fought and punched and kicked and half drown the entire first half a mile of the 2.4 mile swim. Finally after we made the first turn I had swam ahead far enough that I wasn't being accosted by a thousand other people and finally got to get on my line and 'swim the cable'. The rest of the swim was pretty uneventful and honestly a lot of fun. I like swimming. Thats the easy part.
Biking. I actually really like biking. I love my bike. I love being outdoors. And luckily being a pretty decent swimmer I got to kinda be at the front and away from the giant mess that was still happening in the water behind me. Exiting the water you really realize how different Ironman events are. On the way up the path there were scores of volunteers, one wrangled me as I'm on my way to transition and told me to "SIT DOWN!" I did... and they tore my wetsuit off of me. Thats new. They showed me where to go and I headed into the changing tent.. which by the way is its own brand of weird. By the time I got there they had my bike gear bag ready, my cleats set out, everything in a big line for me. I put the cleats on and they ask if I wanted my sunblock, yeah... thats why I brought it.. but as soon as I said yes, there were two volunteers applying sunblock to me. Amazing really. I start to pack my crap from the swim into the gear bag and they shout "NO NO NO GO WE'LL DO IT" and so I stand up and head out to the bike corral. I'm looking at my arm for the directions to my bike that I wrote the night before so I wouldn't get lost, as I'm ready to make the turn there is another volunteer next to me with my bike in hand. So much for having to remember... anything. So I grab the bike and I'm off. The rain never came. That was the good news. It was blown away. That was the bad news. The course was very windy. Hot, windy, and humid. There were a lot of causalities from that. The aid stations were a God-send. Perfectly spaced with plenty of water. That was the one thing that went perfectly all day. My nutrition and hydration. I had plenty of food, even ending up with a few extra packs left over at the end of the ride, and at every station no matter how much water I'd used, I'd empty what was left into my mouth and over my head, then replace with more water and Ironman perform (not my favorite by the way). Luckily my body pretty much puts up with whatever I want. Eating and drinking what I train with has never been the biggest deal for me. The first 20ish miles of the course were some of the bumpiest and worst roads I've ever been on, so bad that on the first descent my chain fell off. Thankfully it didn't fully fall off, and I could just pedal once and it was back on the chainring. The whole first lap really wasn't too bad. I was back at the start really before I knew it.. made the last turn and saw the special needs bags and thought; "hell, that was kinda.... easy". Second lap was worse. Wind picked up, heat did too. It's funny really, I hit 100 miles and felt fine... that last 12 was brutal. Uphill the whole way, headwind, hot... just not a lot of fun. I traded of with a guy in front of me who'd lead for a while just to have someone else around. We were still doing fair anyway, and didn't want to end up just dying. We chatted on and off for a few minutes during climbs and then got back into racing on flats and descents, which were few and far between. Finally we made the last turn into the city and rode down the main street between hundreds of cheering people on either side and back to transition. The fun part was over. Just the hard part to go.
The transition from bike to run was a lot like swim to bike. I basically just showed up and someone else did everything. They took my bike at the dismount like, to be quite honest I don't even really remember them taking it. I just got back and it was gone. Running into the changing tent the scene was a lot different this time; there weren't that many people there. Paul (the guy I'd been with for 50 or so miles) was in there, but there were tons of seats and tons of volunteers around. It was pretty similar to the first time for me.. I walked to the chair and the volunteer had all my stuff out. Socks ready, shoes ready, putting on my sunblock for me again. Very different than I'm used to. The whole transition of an Ironman is just so different than a shorter race; there is really not much of a hurry. It's structured, you make sure you have everything ready.. because at the end of the day those few minutes really mean nothing. After a few minutes I was finally ready and got up and started out on the run. I was hoping (hahahaha) to hit just a bit slower than my normal time for 26 miles. I'm used to running 7:45-8 minutes per mile for marathons (I'm not a great runner). So this race I was hoping for 8:30-8:45 miles. Didn't seem all that out of reach. Until I got onto the course. It was hard. Harder than I thought it would be. After the first two miles I realized that there was no way in hell I'd ever hit ONE mile at that pace let alone 26. I started out at 9 minute miles and steadily went downhill from there. Run walking was the story of the day. There was no one just running. Except maybe Andy Potts. The run was two laps, so you could basically break it up into four 6something mile lengths which didn't really seem all that tough. The first 6 miles were... ok. I was slow but felt alright. Then the turn around to head back toward Placid... that was brutal. The sun was out and it was so humid. It seemed like the hills never ended, and there were a lot of times where I had to stop and walk. But just keep going. Finally got back to the city and hit the special needs bags where I picked up my melted to crap Reeses and my boiling hot Gatorade which I promptly threw away. On the course I had no Gu's or anything... I was pretty much done with those. The pretzels, bananas and oranges were wonderful to eat. Water was starting to get harder to drink though, I'd sweated a lot through the day and was running low on salt. The next 6something miles were pretty good though. The run walk worked out pretty well and pretty quickly there were only 6 miles to go. I can do 6 miles in my sleep. At that point I was feeling... not awful. My feet hurt, I was hot, but I knew I was going to finish the race. A lot of the other people though... I have no idea. There were a lot of causalities on the course. There were people spread out along the entire course stopped. Some wouldn't be starting again. Some were literally lying down throwing up. A lot were holding themselves up with a guard rail. Most were only on their first lap and I only had a couple miles to go. Coming up the last hill into the city everyone was running. The crowd was going crazy chanting "we want runners, we want runners". So... I started running. What the heck, only two miles-ish to go anyway, whats the worst that can happen at this point. As soon as I started jogging the crowd went crazy. There were high fives from everyone. Felt great. The crowd didn't stop for the rest of the run. Cheering people lining both sides of the course for the full two miles. Two miles still feels like a lot at this point.. so it wasn't a fast run, but I was back down to just under 9 minute miles. You finish the race on the Olympic speed skating track. When I came in it was like something you can never really explain. The emotions of the day, everything just comes out. You're so exhausted and tired, ready for it to be done. But at the same time you just want to soak it all in. The Olympic village, the rings above you, the crowd, and of course Mike Reilly announcing. As you round the final corner you can finally see the finish line, it's only 50 meters ahead. When you finally get there.. it's surreal, like, did it really just happen? Then you hear Mike Reilly say "Brian Nevinger, YOU are an Ironman" and you know it's over.
The volunteers at the finish line are like all the rest of them; wonderful. There was one that caught my chest as soon as I crossed. Apparently going forward isn't the problem, it's stopping. I was kinda wobbly, but all things considered pretty good. After she steadied me two more appeared, one under each arm holding me up. After a minute or so and they realized I wasn't going to keel over and die two of them left to help other people, but one stayed with me the whole time. She collected all my finisher stuff, the medal, the timing chip band, the hat, the shirt and carried all that in one hand and me in the other. She waited for me while I took the photo, then carried me off to my mom and dad, didn't leave until she was sure that I was with someone else who could make sure I was going to be okay. They're awesome people. Can't thank them enough. I wish I knew her name. She asked me as I was leaving to see my family, "How was it?" I replied "It was fun". She looked at me and said "I've been at the finish line for 7 years doing this and no one has ever told me it was fun". Well. I guess I did it right then. I never had the mental game come. I never wanted to quit. I never thought I COULD quit right now and no one would fault me. God knows the day before I was in full panic. It was like, as soon as the gun went off... I knew what to do. My body knew what to do. My brain knew where to be. I had a lot of support across the entire country. People from coast to coast tracking my progress and making sure I was doing okay. I love them all. Five years ago I was a fat kid sitting behind a computer screen. Unhealthy, waiting to slowly eat myself to death. Overweight.. by a lot. Today, I'm an Ironman. That's something no one can give you.. and no one can ever take away. It's worth it. It was.... fun.