Finish! A True Story
By: Ilaura Reeves
Like any other Half Iron Man finisher, I too was once a baby. That being said, I will now explain the difference between myself and most other Half Iron Man finishers, particularly Sourdough Half Iron Man finishers:
- Most of my competitors compete in triathlons regularly. I do not.
- I am a softball player. Just let that sentence sink in. Softball is probably the most opposite sport to triathlon in the history of sports. I’m not going to explicate the dissimilarities, just trust me on this.
- I wasn’t out there competing to win. I was competing to finish.
In April 2013 I suffered a torn ligament in my ankle. The injury took me away from two months of softball competition, as well as my fitness regime. I could no longer run, lift, let alone walk! I had no choice but to sit the bench for over a month, waiting for my ankle to be able to support my body weight. As I iced my ankle, I read a book on Ultra-Running and let my mind wander. I daydreamed about surfing, running, and biking, while the lullaby of my teammates bats connecting with ball played on in the background. I have always been, and plan to always be, a very active individual.
One day I do hope to complete The Iron Man triathlon in Hawaii. During the months that I was sidelined, a crazy idea snuck into my brain: As soon as I was able to run, I wanted to complete the Sourdough Half Iron Man in Fairbanks, Alaska.
By the time I was able to run again there was only about a month until race day, but I wasn’t worried. I knew that my ankle would be able to handle the pressure on the bike, and the swim would be no problem because I used to be on a swim team. If it hurt during the run, well, I could just walk. Not once did I ever doubt that I would complete the race … but I still didn’t tell my friends about it. I thought if I failed, at least no one would know – except for my support crew (AKA my mom).
My training included about three or four “long distance” runs (between 6-9 miles usually ending at Hotlicks Homemade Ice cream) and two “long distance” bike rides (around 20 miles each.) Oh, I also swam a mile once. Now keep in mind I was “training” for a 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, and 13.1 mile run. I had never completed anything close to this distance in one day and had no idea what to expect.
Two days before the race I made a few phone calls and was able to find a wet suit. The swim was to be completed in a gravel pit and the registration form “highly recommended” a wet suit. Luckily Logan Hanneman, a local endurance hero, stopped by my house to let me borrow his mom’s wet suit. It was nice to catch up with him and I asked him what his advice was. Logan has completed many long distance endurance bike races, 100 miles+, and always kills everyone at sprint triathlons in the area. When I asked him for his advice for the Sourdough Hal Ironman, he looked at me like I was some crazy person and said, “I don’t know! I’ve never done it! Just make sure you eat a lot, I guess.”
This was the first time the feeling of being nervous ever hit me. I thought to myself, “Logan Hanneman has never done this?! What am I getting myself into?!” Within four minutes of Logan leaving, I was on my way into town to stock up on race day sustenance. I bought:
- An entire case of water
- A case of gatorade,
- One bag of bagels
- A jar of peanut butter
- 3 Cliff bars
- 2 energy bars
- 6 goos
- And one bunch of bananas.
As I packed everything into the car on race day, I wondered if it was going to be enough.
As I mentioned earlier, my mom was my support crew. I watched the Iron Man on TV, always with a box of tissue in hand, and decided that if those competitors have a support car with them then by golly I need one too. My mom and I got in the car and we were on our way.
The game plan was for me to do the race while she drove along the road and gave me water and food along the way. I thought this would be normal but quickly realized that I’m a little bit of an over-prepared wimp. Everyone else was just planning on stopping at checkpoints for water refills and pretzels binges, but I had my mom stop every 5 miles just to make sure I was still alive. You know what, I’m not embarrassed about it. I’m sure I could have completed the race with the water provided at checkpoints, but the entertainment and encouragement that my mom provided will be something I’ll never forget.
As my mom and I reached the start in Chatanika, Alaska, we didn’t know what to expect. The mosquitos were terrible but other than that I had no complaints. There was even an outhouse! It was a two-foot by six-foot, see through tent with a small pee bucket/bench thing in it, but hey, it got the job done! The atmosphere was very relaxed. It was 9 a.m. and already 70 degrees out. Not too bad for Chatanika. I set up my transition zone next to a woman who was just a few years older than me. I had the number one inked across my shoulder and leg in permanent marker because the way people were numbered was based on age, and I was the youngest.
The woman I set my transition up next to had the number three across her arm. I got to talking to her because I knew we were in for a long day against some very experienced racers. I forget her name, but I found out that she went to USF for a year (where I am currently enrolled, though I’ll be graduating this semester). I asked her how she liked USF, which I probably shouldn’t have knowing that she only went there for a year. She told me very bluntly that she hated it. Despite our differences, we didn’t let it affect our transition neighbor relationship. She asked me if I was nervous and I said yes and that this was my first Half Iron Man. She told me she had done an Olympic Triathlon the week before and that’s when it hit me: Man, was I out of my place!
I looked around at my competitors fancy wet suits, bikes, and aerodynamic helmets and just reminded myself of my goal: Just finish, Ilaura.
Our laid back race director took to the megaphone and asked everyone if we were ready to start. “What?” I thought to myself, “Don’t we have a certain time we are supposed to start this thing?” There were a few loud “No’s,” so we gave it another 10 minutes. Then everyone, and I mean everyone, made their way to the opposite end of where the race was starting and jumped in the gravel pit. I looked at my mom in confusion as I followed their lead and quickly jumped in. Before I could even come up for air I realized why everyone decided to get in on the opposite side of where we were starting… Because the water was FUCKING COLD!!! Everyone was just trying to catch their breath and let their wetsuits fill up with water so they could start warming it up with their body heat. We all shivered and swam to the other end.
The race director yelled out a one-minute race warning, but no one was really paying attention. We were all too busy laughing about how everyone was peeing on each other and liking it because of the brief feeling of warmth surrounding our start line. Yeah … You have to be a different kind of crazy to do what we were all about to do.
The gun went off and I put my head down. All I remember is how dark and cold the water felt, and how I had a long day ahead of me. I found a good pace and a spot next to the buoys connecting line and didn’t move from that spot for anything. Someone would give me an elbow, but I’d just give it back and stay on my spot. I’ve done open water swims before and I know that adding a zigzag pattern to the swim will just end up with me being in the water longer, and at that temperature, extra time in the water was not an option. I kept hoping I’d get used to the water temperature … but I never did.
On my last lap I turned up my speed and gave it my all, but only with my upper body; it’d be the last time I needed to use it for the rest of the day anyway. I reached the green turf, hoisted myself out of the water and thought to myself, “Wow! Already 1/3 of the way done!” I knew that wasn’t true, distance wise, but it made me feel that much better so I went with it.
In a hazy stupor I stumbled to my transition zone and hastily sat down. I was so incredibly dizzy and confused. I didn’t know what was happening, but then I heard someone else say that they were dizzy too. I decided it was normal and changed into my biking clothes. I threw on a sweater to wear while I laced up my ankle brace and shoes, only to take it off again to put on my helmet. My teeth wouldn’t stop chattering for the first 8 miles of the bike; I’m just glad it was a hot day.
I saw my mom at mile eight, taking pictures and told her I’d see her in a few miles and that I’d want a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I don’t even think that I can begin to explain how funny it was when I saw her again at mile 15. I was literally laughing out loud every time I saw her because she would nearly forget to give me water or food because she was too busy trying to take pictures of me. I couldn’t get mad about her completely missing my chance to get water because it was literally too funny that she only had one job to do and she was forgetting to do it because she was taking pictures! Top 10 funniest things I’ve ever seen. We made an ugly transfer, but she made it happen. With my sandwich in hand I rode off to the uphill portion of the bike.
A typical summer bike ride for me is usually between 10 and 15 miles, after that I just get bored. Today, I expected boredom. I went 10 miles, then another 10, then another and I felt great! But then I encountered my first problem … I really had to pee. By this point I had already been passed by pretty much everyone, so at mile 44, I jumped off my bike and ran desperately into the woods. It was weird because my legs began to shake so bad that I was bewildered by the fact that I was able to stand, or even squat for that matter. I was able to zone in on the task at hand; and ignore the mosquitos and spiders biting me, and just pee. I felt so much better … until I got back on my bike.
It’s so funny how hard it is to begin peddling again after you’ve logged 44 miles. Ouch. The last 10 miles hurt; but I finished! I plopped down in the transition zone and didn’t think about the pain I felt on the bike because it was over! Why worry about old pain when I would get to experience a new pain on the run?! I ate a cliff bar and got along on my merry way.
I walked the gravel dirt path to the road and once I hit pavement began to jog. I found a pace that I was able to keep and before I knew it, I had completed a mile. Then two! Then I saw a smiling face, and a bottle of water. I was happy to see my mom, and of course happy to smile for the camera.
I was surrounded by racers, all running in different directions on the out and back, out and back course. USF hate lady was kicking my ass! So was old lady and elderly man! I’ve got to say, for the first time in my life, I didn’t give a shit that I was getting my ass whooped; because my goal was to finish. And I only had 11 miles to go (still longer than any amount I’ve ever ran at once). I adopted a technique. I would run two miles, then walk one. I did that twice and gave up with the mile walk: it just took too long! With about 3 miles to go I was alone out there. I was still ahead of one or two racers, but we were very spread out. Another man and I would pass each other on the road every once in awhile and at one point he said to me, “It’s getting a little lonely out here.” Indeed it was.
The road I spent quality time with that day is a two-lane highway, mostly traveled by hunters, miners, truck drivers, and drunks. Feeling the gust of wind from a 18-wheeler going 80 miles an hour two feet away is not something I’d like to feel ever again, but the gust of wind I felt from my dad’s four door GMC approaching me is a feeling that I could relive over and over!
This was an important journey for me. I was embarking on something completely new to me, stretching the limits of my comfort zone. To see the face of one of my favorite people in the entire world cheering me on was all it took. As my dad handed me water I knew that I would finish this race. He gave me a pat on that back, took a short video on his iPhone, and left me to finish what I started.
Fortunately my mom was still meeting me throughout the way because by the time I reached the last checkpoint, it was deserted. The volunteers had left because most racers had finished and they wanted to enjoy the post race potluck. I don’t blame them.
As I reached mile 12, barely out of breath due to my snail’s pace, I decided to push myself. The scenery that I had looked at all day took on a new light. I was going faster now, pushing myself harder, and felt my smile grow bigger with each step. I wasn’t wearing a watch, but if I had to guess, I’d say that I went from running around an 11 minute per mile pace to somewhere in the 8 minute mile range. In other words … I was booking it!!
I finally saw where I would soon turn to finish the last .2 miles of the race. I gave it everything I had and felt zero pain, just a pure enjoyment and gratitude that I had made it to that point. I was thrilled! I crossed the finish line in 7 hours and 18 minutes! It was one of the slowest times of the day, but I didn’t care.
No matter what my time was, no matter how bad the elderly man beat me; I now shared something in common with him (and all of the other competitors) that I didn’t share with them earlier that morning. Their training regimes compared to mine didn’t matter. The fact that I woke up every day to head to the softball field to ice my ankle while they took to the Richardson Highway on their road bikes didn’t matter. We were no longer that different: We were all finishers.
Ilaura Reeves is an aspiring somebody. She will graduate from USF in 2014 where she has played softball for 4 years at the Division I level. She will be graduating with a degree in Mass Communications with a focus in broadcast news and a minor in Entrepreneurship. She was born and raised in Fairbanks, Alaska where she hopes to one day have her DNA frozen in permafrost so she can be cloned and do this whole “life” thing over again. She is also my youngest sister, WugWug! You can follow her on twitter: @iLaura49