The bike took much longer than it should have but there is no looking back and I don’t spend any time dwelling on that. I am truly having the time of my life, despite the tire explosion and the slow demise of my turtle cushion. I make quick work of my transition with the help of an amazing volunteer. I rush out to the other side, ready to start my run and I am greeted by screams and applause. I hear my name in several directions and I’m trying to focus and see where it is coming from so I can celebrate with them, but I inevitably miss some. My new colleague Corey catches my attention from within the transition area and lets out a full guttural scream. “CAAATHYYYYYY!!” He is an 8-time Ironman and will be catching me at the finish line. THE FINISH LINE! I think on that for a moment and it gives me a kick to get my run started. I would find out later that one of my favorite little fans, who isn’t quite tall enough for me to see him trying to catch my attention over the fence, was waiting with his Ironman action figure to cheer me on. Thank you, little buddy. I’m still having fun and I’m going to win!
I round the corner and see Monika and Cheryl; point and scream! A couple more steps and I see Jessica D. and I have to stop to celebrate. I have known her for years and she has seen me in the midst of some of my bad asthma episodes; not many people have, as I retreat for days/weeks when it happens. She understands the miracle that this is. I stop for a tearfully excited hug. “You’re doing it! You’re doing this, Cathy!”
Right next to her I see ANN! I know she has been there all day. She volunteered with me years ago and was there when I started feeling the pull of triathlon. Jubilant hug. I just can’t pass these up!
I start up the slight incline that is Lakeside Avenue. I see Paula and Alicia and they snap a few photos as they assess my condition which, despite my back and hip pain, looks like this:
I look to my left and remarkably, Dave, with whom I swim on Wednesday nights, is running right next to me! He has just finished his first loop of the run and is looking strong. What are the odds?! We run together for a moment, encourage each other, and then I have to let him continue at his pace.
My body isn’t letting me run/jog yet so I switch up to a power walk. I know I don’t have the luxury of slowing down; I must keep up this pace throughout the entire marathon. In keeping with tradition for longer races, I am now racing the clock. By the time I reach Sanders Beach a couple of miles out on the course, I’m maintaining a slow but comfortable jog. Towards the end of that road I get a new surge of energy in anticipation of what I know will be quite a reception just ahead. I round 17th and I see them! My theatre friends hang out at this house on the corner every year. They set up a sound system with microphones (because that’s what theatre people do), cheer on runners by name, play fun music and generally entertain the athletes as we press on. Bill and Laura see me and make a huge announcement to the fact. Laura rushes out to give me a giant hug. Last year, after I was pulled from the water having surrendered to my illness, they caught up with me as I was picking up my gear. We embraced and Laura sobbed on my shoulder. It was heartfelt, raw emotion and while I couldn’t reciprocate those feelings because I was too sick to do so, I drew so much strength from that embrace. Yet another moment to remember. So this embrace, on this day, as I am out on the last leg of my Ironman journey, is special-of-a-different-caliber. I give the rest of the group a booty shake to their music before continuing on.
A runner behind me catches up and says, “Thank you for that dance. I needed that. It just gave me the boost I needed!” Ha! “Glad I could help!”
I reach the party block. There had to have been about 200 very boisterous college-aged folks, beer in hand, loud music playing, and they’re lined up and cheering like it’s the Super Bowl. I feel like a Rockstar as I pass. On Coeur d’Alene Lake Drive, I know my life-long friend Kim will be at the Mardi Gras aid station and Carolyn, whom I haven’t seen since high school will be there too. Every time someone I know shows up to cheer me on, it’s as if their excitement permeates through me, giving me what I need to get through until I see the next person. This is truly a group effort today. My pace is slowing a little but I try not to worry too much. Still, I start praying for strength. I see a number of people strolling casually and chatting as they trudge along, obviously on their second loop of the marathon and on their way home. I envy that they are able to stroll! Several of them comment as I power by. “That’s quite a pace you have there. How do you still have this much energy?” “I have to. It’s my first loop!!” I can almost hear them gasp, though they try not to. “You can do it. Keep it up!”
The Dicksons drive by cheering, and again the Angelos, who are all OVER this course today. I see fellow athlete Scott and he’s hurting but only has six miles to go. Go Scott! Rather unexpectedly, I see Kathryn with her kids in tow. She runs along the trail with a huge grin and she’s giggling while taking pictures. “I’m so proud of you!! Look at you go! Cathy, this is so exciting!” What a great surprise. Later, I’m told that she scolded her children because they wanted to sit down while waiting. “You will do no such thing! These people have been on this course for over 12 hours now. Show some respect!” Priceless!
I still don’t need my inhaler.
I keep moving but my back and hips are impacting my pace now. At this point, the maneuver to pop by back into alignment isn’t working anymore. I need Brian out here but I’ll have to deal with it. I see Tom and he rushes over to encourage me. He is on a bike and rides along the road out of the way, prodding me forward. “That’s a great pace. Keep that up and you’ll be just fine. You look great!”
For a short distance, I walk next to a lady who is limping. We chat for a bit and then I ask if she has a blister. She says, “No, I have MS.” WOW! I tell her how amazing and inspirational that is and I urge her to keep moving. We give each other a side-embrace as we walk together, silently celebrating each other’s journey. The advantage of being a cabooser is that you get to learn about people and hear their stories as you push towards your goal. It not only helps pass the time, but it gives you strength on a different level. You already have an unspoken respect for one another given what you’re each trying to accomplish, but somehow hearing some of their story inspires you to finish your own journey. I don’t know what happened to her and in my exhaustion I was not able to commit her number to memory so that I could look her up later. I’ll never forget her and I’ll always wonder how her day ended. What a courageous journey.
I approach the “theatre house” but only Laura and Julie are out front. “HEY, guys! Cathy Stephens is IN THE HOUSE! Get out here!” And the most entertaining greeting erupts. They all file out from the backyard, having been sipping on happy juice for several hours now, and in true funniest-people-I-know fashion, they rush onto the side of the street, jumping up and down, waving arms, cheering me on in their theatre way. “Cathy, you’re a Rockstar! You go, girl! We’re so proud of you! I know it’s so uncool that I have a cigarette right now, but you’re so awesome! Want a foot massage? Beer?” They’re all talking over each other (because that’s what theatre people do) and they make me laugh hard. I wave my arms in the air and bid them good-bye as they cheer behind me and I’m good to go for another couple of miles with yet another dose of adrenaline. That was hysterical.
I turn onto 8th street and have a couple of miles to go before the halfway point. I look up to see Janine taking pictures. She’s wearing a sweatshirt, shorts and a backpack full of food and drinks for the day, but runs along the sidewalk next to me anyway. “You are doing awesome! Cathy, you are totally living out your dream right now. I’m so proud of you!” She snaps these photos of me and I think you’ll agree that she’s likely the best photographer on the planet.
We round the corner and see Brian and Nika and they have my Pirate Turtle mascot! They cheer and Brian, always the comedian, makes me laugh with his Rocky air punches as I approach the special needs area where Ali and Winter are holding my special needs bag!! What a welcome sight!! I grab what I need including my flashing light arm band that I know I’ll need. I give them each a gross sweaty hug (they were so gross and sweaty!).
The halfway point is a mile away. I’m hoping to make it by 8:30, the cutoff being 9:00pm. I make it at 8:34pm and I’m okay with that but my pace is gradually slowing. I try not to stress about it. I see Paula, Alicia and Crew again and we high-five as I pass by.
As I approach Sherman I know that every runner coming towards me now is about to finish their race!! I am so excited for them I want to burst! My perma-smile is back and I applaud as we pass each other. I see Todd W. at the library parking lot and I’m really excited that someone I know is about to finish this thing! We high-five in our matching Hammer shirts and he continues on to his finish line. YES! I see Meghan another mile up the road and she’s about to finish too. YES! I’m so happy for them and I also know that will be me in about three hours. I make the tour again; theatre friends, Rockstar corner Party House, and head out to Coeur d’Alene Lake Drive. I see the Sovereigns! They are looking for Jeremy and tell me that he has a stress fracture on his foot and is hurting. I see him about a half a mile up the road. He only has 4 miles to go! We embrace and give each other a good dose of encouragement. He’s almost an Ironman for the first time!! We break our embrace and I let him move on towards his victory, a huge lump in my throat. I am so proud of him!
One mile at a time, I plod forward. I reach mile 18, back and hips hurting, pace slowing a little more but I will make it!
And then I realize in horror that I have made a critical error.