today, as I sit here, letting the sore muscles recover and looking at pictures over and over. A day I will never forget, a day with so many ups and downs and the culmination of those epic words, 'Melissa Stockwell, You are an Ironman!'
You can end here if you like, that is after all, the end result of the day. If you want to hear how it all went down, read on, keeping in mind that is was 140.6 miles, so it's a long one...
The day started early. 420am wake up call with Brian. Down to the lobby to
the smiling faces of Keri, Katz, MaryKate and an excited walk over to transitions. Pumped the tires, got body marked, dropped off special needs bags, put on the wetsuit and waited for that 640 mark when we could get in the water. I saw Jean and Nick, reveled in the amount of people about to take this journey with us and the knowledge that we would all be Ironman by the end of the day.
We were able to start with the pro men, the first swim wave. If you've seen an IM or done one, you know what a huge advantage this is. Instead of starting with 2500 of your best friends in what is called the washing machine, as everyone goes at once, we only had about 50 others and plenty of space to get those arms going.
As I jumped in and swam a 100m to the start I stopped and took it all in. The morning light was coming up, the bridge above the start was jam packed with people, the big Ironman logo was an easy spot and I smiled, thinking, this is it. Today is the day. At 645 the cannon went off, and off we went. 2.4 miles is not a short swim. It felt like forever until we got to the turnaround. The 63 degree water turned out to feel nice after a cool start. Buoy after buoy we swam, on an extremely well marked swim course. I did the last turn and could see the swim exit. As I neared, the volunteers worked their way down, put an arm on either side and as I came up the stairs there they were, Keri and Brian, Mark and others, waiting at the exit. I was so ecstatic, this was the day and I was going to make it a good one. My time was a solid 1:07 and I was thrilled with it and smiles came easy. The wetsuit came off, the running leg went on and I was off to T1. Along the way the crowd was deafening, I have never heard anything like it. I got to see and give my parents a hug (highlight #1), I took in the cheers and it was truly unbelievable. My smile was so big, a few chuckles thinking about the moment and thinking about how lucky I was. We got my special needs bag, went into the changing tent, changed into bike shorts, put some suntan lotion on and Keri and Brian helped me off on the bike. I got on the bike ready for a 'short' ride of 112 miles, gave Brian a big smile and I was off.
The bike course was a 3 loop course. While I didn't want to put times to anything, I really wanted to average around 15mph. The way out, before the turnaround was a little rough. A headwind, a false flat and at the first turnaround I was averaging only about 14mph and was pretty discouraged. I made the turn and hellooo tailwind! I quickly made up the time I lost enjoying the push of the wind and the slight downhill. I got to the first turnaround and loved the cheers and the familar faces of Team Melissa. Dan, Basia (another surprise!), Keri, Katz, Alyssa, Brian, Mom, Dad, Rob, Mark Sortino, Peter..so many happy familiar faces. I gave a thumbs up, a smile and was off on lap 2. The wind had shifted and there was a tailwind this time and it continued to shift all day. On my 2nd lap I got my special needs bag and dug into some cookies from Casey's general store, direct from IL, and another PB&J. I was doing pretty well at staying on my nutrition plan, eat every 40 min, drink water, UR and repeat. My best lap was the second one. By the 3rd, I was just ready to be done. 112 miles is just a lot of miles to be on a bike. I got to see the family and friends, and Jake! on the 2nd turn. I got many encouraging words as other riders passed and was a friendly rider, even uncharacteristically chatting with a few people. As I pulled into T2 I had an avg of 15.2mph and was so happy. I saw Brian and Keri there waiting for me, they took my bike and I hobbled into the changing tent and T2.
These transitions are so unlike what I am used too. Usually it's a scramble for how fast you can get in and out. But here, I took the time to stretch, I changed, I put on more sunscreen and took about 10 min to get myself situated. I knew I had a big run ahead of me. As I left T2, I gave a wave and a smile and knew I was 2/3 of the way there, but the hardest was yet to come..
My first step of the run was a bit worrisome. I have this weird throat issue and when I overexert myself, or get too excited, I have a hard time swallowing which leads to all sorts of other issues. A throat spasm of sorts. I don't need to name these issues here, but let's just say it is not comfortable. It becomes difficult to drink or eat anything and can cause some deep breathing issues. A few years ago I almost wrote off an IM knowing this could happen and as I started off, the feeling was there.
But, nothing to do than to keep going, so that I did. Step by step right?
In my training I was starting off the bike at 10-11min miles and was hoping for just that. As I started and kept moving I was easily in the 11-12 min miles from the start and wasn't that thrilled with it. The run was a 2 loop course, out and back along the lake and great for spectators. I kept thinking my pace would pick up and when it didn't I was bummed and not in the best of moods when I got to Team Melissa cheer spot #1. I smiled weakly (maybe) and Keri jumped in to run with me for a bit. Keri has run with me a lot. A whole lot. She knows my run, she knows when to talk and when not to talk. She has seen me at my worst. And contrary to popular belief, I can be a serious downer on the run. My goal of being a happy runner was slipping away and anyone that passed with an encouraging word was lucky to get a small wave or anything at all. If anyone is reading this that saw me out there, thank you. I truly did appreciate all the cheers, but in the ups and downs of an Ironman, I was down. Keri was doing her usual great job of cheering on all the runners and encouraging me as much as she could.
That girl, always with a smile.
Miles 6-12 didn't get much better. With this throat issue, I could only manage a few grapes at each water stop. So 4-5 grapes, a cup of water and I was off to the next one. I saw Dan and Basia around mile 8 and was once again Ms downer. A little wave and that was it. When Brian tried to cheer me up with a funny face I turned it down and was visibly pretty miserable. What had I gotten myself into. I was only at mile 10!
The halfway point slowly approached. The sun had gone down and I was running with a glow stick. At mile 13 I saw everyone again. This time Jake was there wearing his 'my mom is going to be an Ironman' tshirt along with my parents, MaryKate, Katz, Brian and Keri. I managed a smile and Katz joined me for a bit. Her rolling beside me was pretty special. Katz knows the pure determination it takes to be an Ironman and her encouragement went a long way. Miles 13-18 were my best. Somehow I picked it up. Took my 13/14 min miles and dropped them down to 12m miles. I was smiling once again, I was taking in the excitement, encouraging the other racers, actually thanking people as they passed with kind words. I was in a good place as I came to mile 17, back to my cheering section. I gave them a big smile and said, '9 more miles and I'm an Ironman.' I was still only eating about 4-5 grapes and a cup of water at each aid station. I saw Mark along the course and he told me repeatedly, please eat sugar, drink coke, eat something. The fear or this throat issue kept me from anything except those grapes. Smart? probably not. But it's all I could do,
so that's what it was going to be.
I saw Dan and Basia and Keri about mile 20. Still feeling OK,
Dan yelled out 'From Walter Reed to Ironman, you've got this Stockwell' Inspiring? yes. I passed mile 20 and things started to go downhill. On to mile 21 and the miles got slower and the exhaustion set in. By mile 23, I was getting to an all time low. Struggling to run at all, I saw Mark again and he begged me to please have some coke. I tried a small sip, and that's all I could get down. 2.5 more miles and I was spent. By mile 24 I was there, the lowest of lows. My body wouldn't work right, it was all I could do to walk. I would try the game of running from light pole to light pole and that failed. Everything hurt. I saw the 15 hour time come and go. I saw Jean run by, looking so strong as she encouraged me to just keep going, I could do this. There were silent tears, the wonderment on what on earth I was doing out there. A marathon on 50 grapes, is that possible? But one foot in front of the other, and the minutes dragged on. And finally. Finally, I got to mile 26, I saw Dan. He had my American flag there for me to get. He got me situated and sent me off as I rounded the corner with .2 miles ot go.
And now, the finish chute. You always imagine yourself here. I had thought so many times what would I do. I wanted to take in the crowd, to give high fives and walk my way down. As I rounded the corner I saw Katz, Alyssa and MaryKate screaming their hearts out. I turned and saw that finish. And it all became a blur. The deafaning noise, the lights, the crowds and that finish line. It was heaven. And suddenly, I could run. A slow run, with that flag over head, and as I got closer, those words I had so longed to hear, Melissa Stockwell, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN. I stood at that finish a wave of emotion. In 15:12, I had completed 140.6 miles. I was in the club. I was an Ironman.
The next minutes were surreal. Brian ran up and put the medal around my neck, I saw Keri there with a bear hug, my parents cheering from the side and then the overwhelming congrats form everyone and from Katz, MaryKate, Alyssa, Mark, oh my. I. was. an. Ironman.
What a crazy, incredible journey. A journey that started almost a year ago. The training, the hard work, it all paid off, another dream come true. Here I was, Nov 17, 2013, and I was an Ironman. Surrounded by my best friends, my family and the cheers of so many of you. Over the next few hours, with the help if Brian, I made myself back to the hotel, got to lay down, take a bath and sleep away my first night as an Ironman.
I woke up, somehow still able to move and even walk. I was and am overwhelmed by how special and loved so many of you made me feel. I truly am the luckiest girl in the world.
Like any IM finisher we made our way down to the finisher expo and I became president of the overbearing Ironman club. With a finisher jacket (thanks Mom and dad), tshirts, a visor, a necklace (thanks B), a pint glass, a coffee mug, an ornament, and a backpack with luggage tag, I think I'm set... I saw Karen and Nick and we had our congratulatory moments. I proudly wore my Arizona IM finisher shirt along with hundreds of others around AZ that day. It was a cool club and as we all struggled to walk with our sore bodies I couldn't help but wonder why we all do this to ourselves, triathetes are crazy.
A question I've gotten, will I do it again?
On sunday night, it was a flat, No. Then it was a not yet, and now it's a maybe. That's the way these things go. And if there is or isn't another IM the big questions is, what's next? If anyone has any ideas send them me way. I'm up for it all. Any challenge is a good challenge. For now the challenge is learning to rest, take some time off, and then learn to sprint again. I think I've forgotten how. And take on nationals and worlds again, and so the journey of a different kind will continue.
I can't sign off without thanking again Cigna and David Cordani, Dare2tri, CAF and Refuel. Becuse of them, I was able to get to that starting line. And to my parents who made the trip and gave me the best surprise ever, the weekend was that much more special with you there. And Dan and Basia, surprise #2. And my sister Amanda, whose call after the race made the day complete and to Brian who always believes in me and puts up with this craziness and to Keri and Katz and MaryKate for being the best team out there. To Elaine for the cheers and the
awesome pictures. And to Coach Stacee who coached me to that finish line and who was there with me in spirit every stroke, pedal and step of the way. And to all of you for believing in me. I'm not sure life can get any better than this.
So there you go. My journey of 140.6 miles and a dream come true.
I am an Ironman.