Once I got off the bike, I had an eerie sense of deja-vu. I could feel the light heat of the afternoon, and I could feel my tight and slightly wobbly legs. Memories of Ironman Arizona crept into my head. Stomach cramps during the first mile of the run. IT bands locking up almost immediately. Med tent visits. Running alone. Darkness setting in. Goals slipping away with the moonrise. I walked into T2 unsure what to expect of myself, taking my time in transition to make sure I had everything I would need for what might become a long, long walk.
After the kindest trio of volunteers slathered me with sunblock, I exited T2 and walked along the crowd-infested corridor out to Sherman Avenue. The noise and energy was incredible. Everyone seemed to be imploring me to stop walking and to get a move-on. I noticed that the Timex official event clock struck 8:00 almost on the dot as I passed under it.
Breaking 12 hours was not meant to be today. But breaking 12:30:00 was a real possibility -- if I started running. Still, that would be a 30-minute personal best time if I could pull it off.
Thirty freaking minutes.
Like a jockey kicking the sides of a horse, I slapped my right thigh to pick up the pace. "Let's see how this goes," I thought, scared that my legs would lock up just like in Tempe.
I felt good?!
I FELT GOOD!
I exploded out onto Sherman Avenue to thunderous cheers for all the athletes. It didn't matter I was a middle-of-the-pack triathlete, the crowd didn't care. They just wanted me to believe in myself and smile. So I did, thanking people who called out my name because of my race bib and even high-fiving a few people along the way. This was glorious, what every weekend warrior dreams of. That one moment in time where you're not watching the Tour de France, you're riding in it. You're not watching the World Series, you're starting Game 1.
That is what Ironman is all about...one moment in time where it's your name on the back of the jersey, not MJ's, not LeBron's, not Jeter's, not Brady's.
I kept a strong pace through the first mile until I reached the Fortius team tent. Steph, Coach Gerardo and my teammates were all there to encourage me. I stopped to give Steph a brief kiss and told her I felt really good.
It was on.
Those first six miles, I assaulted the course. I ran motivated, fearless, and angry. See, my strength trainer told me weeks before the race that "my body simply isn't cut out for running" and that I should quit altogether after Ironman. Thanks to Steph's guidance, we came up with a mantra that funneled my resentment and hurt: "I may not be cut out to be a runner. But I'm a runner TODAY." I repeated that phrase out loud the first six miles, along with another choice statement: "I am fucking invincible today." I'm not sure where the latter one came from, but I know what sparked it. I knew my Fortius teammates and LA Tri Club buddies were behind me. I also knew they probably figured I'd do what I had done at Wildflower Long Course triathlon this past May -- bonk hard on the run after a hard bike.
Heck, I thought I was going to as well!
But I just couldn't let that happen. I couldn't stand the humiliation of proving once again that I'm all bike and no run. I needed to be more than that. I had set up my race all day for the run. I had stayed within myself on the bike, calculating my nutrition by feel and pace by instinct just so I would be in this position.
I was NOT letting go of my lead. Not today. Because today, I'm a runner. Plain and simple. Runners don't lose their lead.
I had no idea how fast I was running, but I knew I was following my walk-the-aid-station plan and running faster than I had during my training sessions. I felt amazing. Around mile 12, I found my buddy Chris, who kicked my ass on the bike by about six minutes. I gave up trying to catch him early in the bike race, hedging my bets for this moment.
When I ran alongside Chris, I told him to run-walk with me, that we could finish together if we did. I really meant it. Chris has been a good friend and training partner the past couple years. I didn't want to see him suffer, and he was clearly bonking. Chris gave it a valiant effort to keep the pace but fell back. I saw him once more as I started my second loop of the marathon at mile 13.5 and he was just starting his second loop. I didn't see him again.
This is where I got into trouble. I lost my head when I saw Team Fortius around mile 14. I was having the run of my life, or so it felt. I demanded that my teammates not tell me my pace or what time of the day it was. I didn't want to know! I was so locked into my own mental space that it didn't matter. I could feel my heart-rate rise though as I saw Steph, Gerardo and Christina. I started screaming, "I MAY NOT BE A RUNNER, BUT I AM TODAY!!!" Later, Christina would say her hand still hurt from my high-five as I rushed past.
That heart-rate and adrenaline surge would cost me a few miles later.
I started to bonk around mile 17, two miles more than my longest run of the past six months. There's a long half-mile uphill climb and it ate me alive. I had stopped repeating my mantra and was simply focused on reaching each aid station in the best condition possible. Stomach cramps started searing my midsection, though I had made a smart tactical gamble five miles prior when I picked up a Pepto Bismal tablet package that someone had dropped on the course. Just like at Ironman Arizona, I thought I might need it. I surely did.
Mile 18 came, and this is where it gets a little gross. I apologize in advance, but in the spirit of honesty and sharing what happens to the body during an Ironman, I pissed myself. I had to use the restroom, my brain was tired, I didn't want to stop moving and I didn't have the willpower to wait any longer. I walked through an aid station as urine poured down my leg. Nobody could tell as I took water sponges and drenched the back of my neck and head to make it look like water was soaking my whole body.
The next four miles were the hardest. The hills continued to whittle my legs out from under me, and the hamstring cramps kicked in. I remember running and looking at my shadow just as I pulled up lame with a shooting flame locking my right leg up. I limped for about 10 steps and continued to run while breathing straight to the pain. Cramp gone. This happened two or three times along the way. My strong pace had crumbled completely, going from what I later learned was a 9:36 pace to a 11:53/mile pace for those four miles. I had bonked HARD.
The drama and finality of finishing my second Ironman kicked in around the 24th mile. The crowds of neighbors peeking out from their homes in the residential neighborhood could tell who was on their second loop and which runners were starting their first. They seemed to pay special attention to those of us who looked the most wounded. That would be me. "Come on Ryan! Finish this! Don't stop!" One house had the Rocky Balboa theme song blasting from its driveway.
That's all I needed. I had worked this entire year for this moment. It was the 15th round. I had punched hard, been punched hard, knocked this race down and been knocked down by it. But now it was time to FINISH. No excuses. No pain.
Mile 25. One final round of cramps just for good measure on the final hill before reaching Coeur d'Alene City Hall. I ran through the parking lot, still oblivious to whatever my time and pace had been to this point. Then, I saw the City Hall clock before making the final turn onto Sherman Avenue and seeing the absolutely endless finisher's chute -- fortunately all downhill from there.
I was going to break 4:30. I did it without a watch. I did it without a clue on timing.
I did it all on heart.
The final quarter-mile felt quite different from Ironman Arizona. I wasn't giddy this time. I was exhausted. I felt like the Memphis Belle from the 1980s movie with Matt Modine and Eric Stoltz. Landing gear gone. Wing shot up. No fuel in the tank. Gonna land on my belly, if I land at all.
Just. Get. Me. To. The. Finish.
Gerardo high-fived me. "You PR'd!" Too tired to acknowledge it. Just keep running, I thought.
The final chute. The cheering is actually a roar. Somehow, I spot Stephanie to my left. My arms raise, and I point to her emphatically.
This moment was for her as much as it was for me. WE did this. We did it!
I promised myself throughout my training that when I crossed the finish line of my second Ironman, I'd make the famous "V" sign with both hands to indicate two completed Ironmans. Oh it felt good to raise those arms!
"Ryan Schneider, from Sherman Oaks, California!"
"You're an Ironman!"
I predicted 12:26:00 or better in my pre-game mental strategy race document.
My race ended with me standing alone in the chilly lake waters, coaxing the lactic acid out of my legs. The water was calm and lapped around me so gently. The sun was nowhere near setting. The temperature was perfect, and if someone told me that this is what heaven would be like, I'd be quite content.
I wasn't really thinking anything in that moment. Just totally present. Totally at peace. Once again, I was thrown some pretty major curveballs on one of the toughest physical days of my life. I didn't panic. Instead, my attitude reflected the calmness in that lake at that very moment.
I couldn't help but beam.
I may not be a runner. But I was a runner that day.
And I was a two-time Ironman too.