Seeing my son, Ethan, gave me a boost (and humorously led to me running over an orange cone). Even after that, hard hills the second time around became killer climbs. It wasn't just my legs that hurt. (And I'm not talking about my undercarriage, either.) Almost expectantly, I had to battle something even tougher than the inclines: my doubting mind.
Honestly, at Mile 70 I didn't know if I could — or would make it. I'd been warned about soul-searching struggles and had experienced it in most of my long training rides, but I've dealt with self-doubt — along with some outside doubt — my entire journey.
Thankfully, somebody had written "BELIEVE" in big letters just at this point on the road. I needed that mental lift and did what I had been advised to do by so many people: Keep moving forward. That's precisely what I did for almost eight fairly grueling hours on that small seat.
I could barely walk coming off of the bike. My feet especially hurt, so I was glad to get my running shoes on. I was even happier to see my wife, Heather, and my kids, Ethan, Sydney and Aidan, again. The crowd support was tremendous — and I smiled and playfully interacted with people along the route all day to keep myself positive. But nothing compared to seeing my family — the ones who didn't see much of me this past year — cheering me on.
I gave hugs and kisses on my way to the marathon course, and that's when I really wondered if I could make it. Despite my bike struggles, I still finished more than 30 minutes before the cutoff time. That was a relief. I'd never done more than a 16-mile run (with some walk breaks), and figured I needed all the time I could get to plod along for 26.2 miles.
And plod is exactly what I did. I had a horrible blister on my right foot, so every step hurt. To even things out, my left foot blistered up later on. I did the math in my head and knew that worst-case scenario I could briskly walk the entire marathon and still make it. Problem was, I expected my pace to naturally slow down the longer I was out there.
I chatted with fellow Ironman wannabes out there as we tried to help encourage each other along, and the town provided indescribable amounts of support with signs, aid stations, music, front-yard parties and motivating cowbells.
Though discouraged by the distance remaining, and feeling overwhelmed by the big hills on this course, I eventually made myself mix in some short spurts of jogging with the walking. And strange enough, my legs started feeling better and were capable of more and more jogging.
It was a bittersweet moment for me at the halfway point when I saw my friend, Cindi. Her Ironman finish video sparked my desire to sign up for this, and she struggled with hypothermia on the swim and had to be pulled out of the water. But she greeted with me with a hug and a smile, "You're going to do this, Jody! You're going to be an Ironman!"
I still had four hours to go 13.1 miles, but I continued to be scared that my feet would just hurt too badly to walk on because of the blisters and worried that my legs would wear out. But I kept moving forward and moving forward, making sure to keep up on my hydration and nutrition (two big weaknesses of mine coming in).
Another friend encouraged me to keep up with her — to walk up the hills and jog down them. But her pace was too quick for me at that point, so I told her to go ahead.
Only a few minutes later, something magical happened for me. I jogged and felt great. Mile after mile passed and I was able to jog more and walk quicker. I was so close to accomplishing this goal, and I wasn't about to let this opportunity of a lifetime slip away. Not after devoting my life to training since December despite heavy writing and travel demands at work.
On the bike course, somebody made a sign in French (which I speak) that encouraged their Ironman participant, "Souviens tous qui pensent a toi" ("Remember those who are thinking of you").
I've been so grateful for all of the support I've received along this yearlong journey, and this was even more prevalent while I was out there. I knew friends and family members, even thoughtful strangers, anxiously awaited for updates of my every move all day long. The last thing I wanted to do was disappoint them.
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