Running was new to me just a few years ago. Severe asthma made it impossible for most of my life. Now that I was able to run, I encountered a new set of obstacles over and above my difficult bio-mechanics, including GI issues. Common among runners, I sought out advice from everyone I knew, read articles and tried just about every product I could find. My body’s reaction to any nutrition I was using during longer distances or intense running sessions was pretty severe and I would suffer the effects of it for hours after. Seven weeks before Ironman, I changed up my nutrition plan one more time and was overjoyed that it worked!! No more issues at all. I was so happy to have finally found something that truly worked and would not only get me through Ironman, but would allow me to tolerate longer distances and short, intense training runs.
It worked so well that I completely forgot that I ever had issues in the first place. But at mile 18 of my Ironman marathon, I was….well….rather violently reminded of the fact. Again at mile 18.5, and 19, and … (It’s okay to laugh. I laugh about it now too.) Really, Cathy? It didn’t occur to you that after 14 hours of intense racing that no matter what you are using for nutrition, you might have a problem, and you really should take Imodium to prevent it? Fine. I accept my new self-imposed fate and consider it a new notch on the adventure belt. I didn’t have time to dwell on it. By now I was looking at my Garmin every minute or so, keeping my pace in check. But now I would have to make a few stops and that could put my finish in serious jeopardy. I had no choice. Running made it worse so my sporadic jogging for short distances would have to cease.
I start praying and calling on my angels for strength. I make it another mile down the course and I can’t believe what I’m seeing. To my left my sister, uncle and nieces are there once again but I look closer and there she is. MOM! If this blog format would allow me to use larger font, I would. MOM!! I know how physically difficult it was for her to get down there and the fact that she was hobbling towards me was amazing. How do you not stop for that? I walk over to her embrace and she has this huge look of pride in her eyes and she’s so excited to be there. Our time is brief but meaningful and once again, I have a surge of energy. That was so cool.
I have to move. I have to stop. I have to move. I have to…..oh jeeeeez!
I head up Bennett Bay Hill, knowing I need to make it to the turn-around by 10:30 and now I’m close. TOO close. It’s dark now. Very dark and lonely out there. I am so thankful for the few volunteers who remain. The officials do their best to light the course but there are several stretches where it’s just DARK. I turn on my battery operated LED arm band. They have run out of glow sticks but that’s okay; they drive me crazy. There’s no comfortable way to wear them. Mine is much cooler anyway. I reach the top of the hill; the turn-around is just ahead. I have to make it. It will be close but I think I’ll have about 7 minutes to spare as long as I don’t stop. I see Terry McGonigal in the dark. “Cathy, is that you? I have orders from your coach to find you. How are you doing? You know you’re right on the edge…” It’s so good to see him out there. “Yes, I know. Having some trouble but I’ll make it. I WILL make it!” I look up and there is Anna too. She and Terry didn’t know each other and they now realize that they have both been waiting for the same person. They keep their distance so as to not break any rules but they walk along the side, encouraging me along. Terry goes all the way to the turn-around with me and then jumps into his car to go ahead and find another spot to wait for me. He texts others to let them know he found me. I know that my friends are able to see where I am online and it makes me nervous, knowing that THEY are probably getting nervous, but at least they know where I am.
I make the turn-around with about 8 minutes to spare. Good. Just don’t stop, Cathy. You have to try not to stop. Anna is in the car with Joe and the kids. “Cathy, do you want me to walk with you?” At this point, most of the caboosers have someone walking with or around them and officials are everywhere on the course so we figure this must be okay as long as they keep their distance. “Yes, if you want to!” I had 6.5 miles to go; she was there the rest of the way. Another athlete, wearing the new Ironman CdA race kit is nearby as is a young man and we all take turns passing each other, our support folks in tow. One stops, putting his hands on his knees and rests for a moment. “We’re gonna make it. Keep moving.” I say as I pass by. My stomach hurts so bad and I decide to try a little bit of chicken broth at the next aid station but it’s cold and I have to spit it out. And then I have to stop again. NO!! I have no choice but I’m praying that this is the last time or I won’t make it.
Five miles to go. It is SO dark out here but for the most part you can still see the surface you are running on so it’s okay. Most everyone is gone except for those few volunteers. Thank you! Your mind starts messing with you at this point. I knew people would be at this finish line, but would I make it before they start tearing it down? I start to wonder for the first time. I see my sister, nieces and my mom again but this time I can’t stop. They cheer me on.
Four miles to go. It hurts so bad. I HAVE to make it! Please, God send me some angels. I need help here! Anna is doing great; she is talking to me but I can’t respond. Just having her there takes away the anxiety of being alone in the darkness. I want to yell out to those at the finish line: “We’re here!! Don’t leave! We’ll make it!” I see Terry again. “I have a message from your coach. He says they are all waiting for you. You can do this. Dig deep!” I dig deep. I go to where my deepest motivation is; that place that gets me so pumped up nothing will stand in my way. I think of a lifetime of sickness and hospital visits; the allergy shots that didn’t work; every detail of my first lung collapse; hours/days/weeks of trying to breathe, just trying to breathe; prednisone – UGH! That evil drug and what it does to your body!; quarantined from the world during bad episodes; wanting to play, explore, climb, swim, bike, run, experience the world, socialize but being forced into isolation and immobility. I see my Little Supporter’s hand written card in my mind’s eye: “I hope you win! I hope you get the Ironman! I hope you have fun all day!”
And then something remarkable happens for the next few miles. I see Janine and Christine on the turn off of CdA Lake Drive. They join Anna and my Turtle Posse begins to form. They have checked with officials to be sure that it’s okay. I know this had to be a tough decision for my friends. Do we wait at the finish line or do we go find her and bring her in? There is no wrong answer here, but I can tell you after going through this, that from now on even though I know how exciting and inspiring it is to be at the finish line for the final finishers, I will be out on the course pushing them along. I cannot express how critical all of these people were, including the few volunteers and spectators who stayed behind. After 16+ and in this case nearly 17 hours now of straight exercise, you rely on these people.
I am dazed, yet determined and focused on that finish line. I think about the celebrations throughout this entire day, my friends who have been my solid supporters and the love they have for me as they wait.
I’m listening but can’t respond. I must still have my sense of humor intact because Janine, in yet another display of spectacular photography, takes this photo and sends it out with the caption noted. I joke but actually, this image is apropos for the moment that it captures, including the blurry quality.
We reach another turn and Terry is there again. “Cathy, they’re all waiting for you. Come on, now! You’re almost there. Now go get it!” I see Laura….in her workout clothes! She jumps in with The Posse. Her voice is quiet and soothing as she assesses my condition. Two more corners and Julie and her son Lincoln join in. They’re all keeping a distance but they are with me. I think a couple of spectators join in but I’m not sure. I start to jog. “Good job!” Another corner and there is Brian and Nika. Once again, Brian carries on with his Rocky air punches and skimming the sides of his nose with his thumbs, making everyone laugh. And this really is quite Rocky-esk. I have a full-on Turtle Posse bringing me home. So cool! I see a chalked note on the street for me and I smile.
A mile and a half to go. I’m looking at my Garmin about every 30 seconds, watching the time and my pace. I look again and……NO!! It dies. IT’S DEAD! I start yelling out, “What time is it? I need the time!” 11:44! No, 11:45! I have 11:47! Okay, that’s not going to work. Just keep moving. I jog. “Good job!” Someone finds some glow sticks and hands them to me. I put them around my neck thinking they will be out of the way but they are distracting and bounce when I try to jog. But I can’t expend the energy to take them off. So I clutch them in my teeth when I jog.
The last few corners are slight inclines but they might as well be K2 Savage Mountain. I glance behind me and the young kid is close behind. I want to tell him to keep it up but I can’t. Up ahead is the short steep incline onto the 8th street turn. I see someone standing up there calling out, “Ten minuuuuutes! You are NOT going to make it if you walk! You have to move faster!” My friends tell me he spoke into a phone, “I’ve got her. I’m bringing her in.”
I reach the top, he moves to my right side. He is wearing a finisher’s shirt and medal. “I’m going to stay with you to the finish. I want you to listen only to me. I need you to move faster. You have to try and jog. I know it hurts, sweetheart. This is what you have trained for. This is it. I need you to move faster or you won’t make it.” I jog. “Good job!” My friends scatter and I don’t see them anymore but I know they are there. We make it to the library parking lot and I remember seeing Todd W. a few hours before and high-fiving him as he approached his finish line. “Christine, I need my sign!” I’m not calling out because I’m worried about the sign; I know she has it and it will be there. I just need to verbalize it at this moment. All of those thoughts I retrieved a short while ago as I “dug deep” are on my mind. This is my punctuation mark. This is my ONLY way of telling people who don’t know me that they CAN overcome. It’s my way of communicating silently but loud and clear to asthmatics that they don’t have to let it take control! I want them to know that there IS hope!!
I turn the last corner onto Sherman Avenue. There it is!! I see it!! It looks much farther away than I thought it would. The young kid blows by me having found some last minute (literally!) push. YES!! GO GET IT!
“There it is, honey. It’s right there! But I need you to move faster or you’re not going to make it in time!”