RUN: "One Mile at a Time"
If I write that the highlight of my run was my 3:56 T2, you immediately get a sense of just how tough my marathon felt.
Within the first mile, I got a side stitch in my upper left abdomen area. I haven't had a side stitch since my first Olympic triathlon back in June 2009. WHAT WAS WRONG WITH ME???
While I had written immediately following my race that my mantra was Don't Panic, I'd have to be honest and say at this moment, cramping at the first mile of a marathon, that I had a mild freak out. It actually crossed my mind that I wouldn't be able to complete the race. That after all this hard work and training, I was done for. Certainly breaking 12 hours was nothing but a fantasy. My two primary goals for the race evaporated in the first eight minutes of the run.
The pic below was taken immediately before my side-stitch began. The last smile in a while.
Talk about a gut check. Literally. I switched my Garmin watch from the stopwatch mode to heart rate, knowing that my goal times no longer mattered. It was a sad, sad moment for me.
This is right at the point where my Fortius friend Mike ran up beside me to ask how I was doing. Clearly, I was in pain. I motioned to my gut and Mike just ran alongside me, smiling, encouraging me to shuffle along and that there was an aid station just a mile and a half away, where there would be a cramp station to help me massage the pain away. Mike was a true savior at this moment. I was down and out, confused by how bizarre my body was reacting -- especially since nerves were never a part of the equation.
I shuffled to the cramp table, where a medieval torture rack awaited. Two helpers told me to raise one leg on an elevated step while I reached for two bars overhead. Then, the aid workers gently moved my body from side to side while reaching under my rib cage to help rub the cramp area. Finally, the duo applied a pain gel to my stomach and told me I could come back in another eight miles to reapply the treatment.
I'll admit I was highly skeptical that this treatment would work. My second mile was almost as slow as my first, but then my cramp started to go away. This was partially related to gulping a cup of cola at the next aid station, but I'm convinced the massage really worked. I dropped close to two minutes off my running pace and hovered consistently within the 10-11-minute mile range. I was probably faster though I stopped every mile or aid station to keep my heart rate from moving past 155 bpm. I picked that number somewhat arbitrarily since I can rise in my training zone to 158 bpm without real consequences. But since I knew I couldn't break 12 hours and I was well ahead of breaking 13, I figured what's the point of inflicting unnecessary pain? At that point I wanted to do everything possible to ensure I finished my first Ironman and recovered sufficiently well to want to try another.
(For the photo below, I'm back up on my feet and seeing my family for the first time on the run for a nice pick-me-up moment.)
The desire to try another Ironman was severely tested around mile 8. My left IT band started to lock up on me. Now, the dirty secret of my bike ride I failed to mention until now is that my left IT band was acting up through much of the 112 mile course. I'm not sure why. Perhaps it was the cold, which has a tendency to transform my knees into weather vanes. Or, it might be a recent readjustment on my tri bike for my right inner foot, which was slightly pigeon-toeing on my pedal downstroke. There had even been earlier signs of IT band trouble, as during my weekly pre-race massages with David, I noticed irritability underneath my left kneecap where none had been all season... except once.
The pain I felt at mile 8 was the same kind I felt at the LA Marathon, where I bonked early from my strep throat and trying to push through too hard on my first marathon experience. For that reason, I thought my race was over. A stomach cramp is one thing. I can push through that kind of discomfort because it is merely that. A dysfunctional left leg is entirely different. I knew the aid station was close but I wondered aloud whether it would make a difference when I trudged past my savior Mike for the second time. Mike kept me calm and told me I could easily keep going in the marathon at my current pace if I just shuffled forward. This helped rally me to the aid station, where the most painful part of the day awaited.
This time, my torture chamber was not the cramp rack but the massage table. For two reasons. First was the table itself. The massage worker told me to lay down face first on the padded canvas. When my face touched the table, I immediately wanted to fall asleep. My position on the table reminded me of what Rocky looked like getting knocked down and out in the boxing movies. I couldn't lift my neck I was so exhausted. I just stared out to the side with one eye, blankly. My day was NOT going to plan.
Then, I was ripped from my somber state. Literally. The massage therapist ripped into my left leg and seemed to literally pick up my IT muscle and move it to where she wanted it. I screamed in pain so loud it startled the workers two tables down. A doctor came over and asked me if I was OK. I looked at him with the "Don't you dare take my timing chip!" look and told the massage worker to crank it up and get me back on the running course. I think I must have growled this because the doctor quickly backed off. Or maybe it was the crushed banana I was holding, the contents of which were bursting through the peel as I squeezed it to death with each pull and grope of my legs.
In between howls of pain I remember thinking one thing only, "OH MY GOD I NEED TO SHAVE MY LEGS!!!!" The massage felt like someone was ripping my leg hairs one by one out of my leg. While pouring lemon juice into each pore. And then lighting me on fire.
Mercifully, the massage ended. I slowly arose from the table and walked off the pain.
Once again, the aid station had worked a miracle. I was not only able to walk, I could run almost immediately. Of course, I had lost another 12-15 minutes at this point. However, I knew these calculated decisions would pay off. I was learning that slower could ultimately mean faster and that sometimes the biggest risks are the ones that force you to slow down a bit.
I find it interesting that the most painful decision of the day was my most valuable and productive.
The rest of the race was merely a controlled burn towards the finish. My pace picked up considerably as I averaged close to 10:30 miles for the final 15 miles of the race, which included generous walking portions to conserve energy and heart rate. I stopped once more for medical attention at the aid station heading into final loop of the run to reapply the cramping gel. I wanted to play it super conservative to ensure finishing well within my 13:00 third-best case goal. I also stopped to pick up a nearly crushed packet of Pepto Bismal that someone had left on the run course. The pills were chewable and my stomach still wasn't 100% so I figured "Why not?". I downed the pills around the 18th mile and didn't really have many stomach issues the rest of the race. This was the first time I needed to take a PB tablet in all my time training for a triathlon. Something was definitely amiss in my nutrition on race day.
As the final few miles started to melt away, I encountered one final hiccup, almost literally. I had been dutifully using my Endurolyte pills at almost every aid station, two pills per mile. Throughout the course of the training year, I've never had a problem downing these little white helpers. Except at mile 22 on my Ironman run. I somehow lodged one of the Endurolytes at the back of my throat and it wouldn't go down. This led to the pill starting to dissolve in the back of my throat, and I didn't have any water to help flush it back since I was past the aid station. I saw a woman spectator on the side of the road and I motioned for her to come over and get to the aid station immediately to help me with some water. She quickly, thankfully complied. I waited as patiently as I could, but soon the agony of the acid in my throat was too great to bear and I started trying to vomit it up. Nothing came out except a little pill powder.
I couldn't believe I was dry heaving with only four miles to go until my Ironman was complete!
To make matters more embarrassing, a sweet runner named Robyn recognized me by my Fortius jacket and told me how much she loved reading my blog. All I could do was raise my arm in acknowledgement while in between yacks. I was incredibly touched by Robyn's gesture yet mortified that she saw me in that condition.
Finally, the spectator rushed over with water and I had to scratch out in a raspy voice for her to put it on the ground so I wouldn't be disqualified for accepting outside assistance. I got most of the remaining pill down but could taste the acid in my throat for the rest of the run and well into the evening post-race.
The last four miles of my Ironman are actually vivid in my mind. I tried to pick up the run pace to finish as strong as I could -- while still leaving plenty of room for a heroic 25th mile push. I alternated between more aggressive running and 30-second walks. Yet the entire time I wouldn't let myself think of the finish itself. Most of the run, despite the pain and misery, I stayed focused on the task at hand. One mile at a time. One aid station at a time. One bridge at a time. One hill at a time. I didn't even allow a hint of a smile cross my face until I saw Fortius coach Ray and teammate Christina take my photo well into mile 25, with Christina telling me I was in the final stretch. I could feel it. The excitement was near. The crowd noise from the finisher's chute was audible. It almost seemed like every single person lining the running path was cheering for me on that final mile. I was going to do this!!!
The final 200 yards. Mike greeted me at the edge of the bike transport area and the parking lot leading me into the chute. He told me this was the final 200 yards and to enjoy every minute of it. I broadly grinned. Mike, that was the one piece of advice I was good on. Oh, I was going to enjoy it!
A man was running behind me by a few yards, his own victory journey coming to a close. I turned around to ask his name and hometown. Brian, from San Clemente, Calif. I shouted out, "So Cal, REPRESENT!" and he smiled. I told him, "I'm going to remember you and this moment the rest of my life. Let's go home!" And with that, I picked up the pace even more...until I rounded the left turn into the finisher's chute.
I have goosebumps on my arms as I write.
I looked at the brightly lit corridor. Stands on both sides. Loud cheering. MY MOMENT. I DID IT!!!! I was about to become an Ironman! At this point, pure emotion took over. My arms went into the air, making #1 signs on each hand. Nevermind I finished 936th overall. In that moment, I was #1. I yelled. "Yes!!!!" "Yessssss!!!!!" "Yesssssss!!!!" All the way down the chute. I couldn't contain myself. I couldn't feel my legs either. I floated down that chute, sprinting, but with time standing still. The timing clock came into view: 12:39:15, 16, 17...I was thrilled with that time. Given all the hardships of the race, all the first-time problems I encountered and ultimately conquered, I was ecstatic.
If you had told me pre-race I'd have nutrition problems, 20-30 mph winds, rain, hail, cramps and dry heaves while still finishing sub-13:00 I wouldn't have believed you.
And then, the finish. I didn't hear the first part from Mike Reilly, "Ryan Schneider, from Sherman Oaks, California..." But I did hear the second:
"Ryan, you're an Ironman!"
With that, I crossed the finish line: Arms raised. Mouth wide open. Pure joy.
The ensuing several minutes were spent with friends, teammates and family. Hugs abound. Photos in every pose. All of it a joyful blur. Everything I had trained for led to that moment. I was an Ironman. I am an Ironman. I will always be an Ironman!
(Celebrating with Steph)
(Celebrating with Fortius!)
(Of all the photos taken that day (and night), this one best captured my feeling of inner relief and accomplishment. That's my dad looking at his camera.)