After racking my bike, I headed to the gear bag area where a volunteer was waiting with my run gear bag. Similar to T1, the volunteers in T2 were amazing. My volunteer pulled everything out of my run gear bag and laid it on the ground so I could see what I had packed. As I was switching my shoes she went to grab Vaseline because my feet already had some blisters showing (by the end of the night it felt like I was walking on bubble wrap…ouch!). She told me that she volunteers every year because her daughter does Ironman races and she tries to treat each athlete she encounters like she would if they were her daughter. I think that sums up the heart of most Ironman volunteers.
- If you do these type of races and haven’t volunteered before, please make that a priority. Without volunteers, there is no Ironman. It takes thousands of volunteers to put on any Ironman event. I recently volunteered at an Ironman 70.3 race and it was a great experience seeing the race from another side.
- As an athlete, make sure you are ALWAYS nice to the volunteers.
At this point in the race, I knew I was going to finish because I had 7.5 hours to complete the marathon. When I left T2, I was smiling because I knew that the only thing standing between me and the finish line was 26.2 miles. After 114.4 miles, 26.2 really doesn’t sound that bad. My original plan was to try and run (more like a slow jog at this point) to each aid station then take a small break to refuel. The aid stations were placed every mile. The first 10 miles were great! I was on such a high from doing well on the swim and the bike and had zero doubts about finishing the race. The run was a 2 and a half loop course which means you actually passed by the finish line FIVE times before you were able to finish. During my first loop when I passed by the finish line, I got a big kick of adrenaline from it. This was also the point in the race that I was able to see my friend Caitlin and the adorable sign she made for me! She lives in Maryland and made the 2.5 hour drive to watch me finish. I remember thinking, “This really isn’t so bad! I see why people get addicted to Ironman.” This is around the point where “pride goeth before the fall” comes to mind.
Maybe I should change that phrase to “pride goeth before the wall” because shortly after mile 11 I found the metaphorical wall that plagues runners and endurance athletes. I don’t know how to fully describe the wall that I hit because I have never experienced anything like it before. I felt like I was trying to run through quicksand, my vision was tunneling and I felt like I was going to pass out. It just got really hard, really fast, and seemingly out of nowhere. I looked at my watch and the time was 7:07. I started doing the math in my head to see how fast I had to do the last 15 miles to make sure I finished by midnight. My slow jog turned into a slow walk as I tried to figure out how to fix how I was feeling. I had followed my nutrition plan perfectly, stayed hydrated during the day, and my salt intake was up. In my head, it just didn’t make sense that I was bonking so badly. I tried to run once more time after the wall hit, and only made it about .2 of a mile because the tunnel vision returned immediately. I knew that if I passed out, and the medics had to help me, Ironman wouldn’t let me keep going and I would be pulled off the course. So, I made the choice to walk the rest of the marathon instead of trying to run and risking passing out. I knew I had enough of a time buffer, that as long as I kept moving I would be able to finish in under 17 hours. Around this time in the race, I found another girl (Hi Rita!) who was also walking. We ended up walking together for four hours.
The Finish Line:
I have started and stopped writing this part of my race report several times, and each time I end up getting writer’s block. How can I possibly describe the way the finish line felt? I can’t. I can’t explain how it felt to see my dream and goal of two years come true. I have visualized the finish line thousands of times over the past two years. The finish line, and hearing, “Sara Lilley, you are an Ironman” was my driving force for 5:30am workouts, having Saturdays of training that were longer than my workdays, and having no social life for months. The red carpet finish line exceeded every expectation I had.
I am so blessed to have an amazing village that surrounds me and supports me in all of my crazy goals. I fully believe that no one becomes an Ironman alone. To everyone who cheered me on, sent care packages leading up to the race, joined me for runs/rides, helped talk me off a ledge when I was in cromit mode, prayed for me, tracked me during race day, and believed that I could do it – thank you.