Before I can tell you about the end of my Mountaineer experience, I need to tell you a story. About my Mom. Many of you have "met" her through previous posts -- like this one -- but not everyone knows about her and the Brian's Run.
I grew up in and recently moved back to a wonderful town, outside of Philadelphia. It has everything you'd want in a suburban locations -- historic homes, arts and culture, a thriving university, a diverse populous. And, of course, beautiful rolling countryside at your doorstep, waiting for you and your bike.
Each year since I can remember, my Mom would sign us up for the Brian's Run. In the 70s, it was the only running game in town. Since then, it's joined by innumerable weekend 5ks and 10ks. But Brian's Run is the original.
And each year Mom and Dad would suit us up, bring us down to the football stadium on South Campus and we'd run. Usually Lil'Sis and I would do the kids fun run and Mom and Dad would do the grownup 10K.
And every single year, Mom would come in last. Not in the back of the back. No -- dead last. We joked about how she knew the ambulance drivers each year, because they would shadow her through the course. She would wave them up to her and talk to them for the long miles through their windows.
She never seemed to mind it. She was an exceptionally slow runner, she was. I remember, as I began to shoot up in my teens and she would ask me to join her for her trips around town counting telephone poles to measure distance, I could often walk at the same pace that she ran.
For Mom, running had very little to do with going fast and more to do with communing. Communing with herself, in the folds of her day and on her on terms. Communing with our town and it's beautiful side streets and friendly people. Communing with her thoughts, I would imagine. Now, as an adult woman, I wish I could have heard the echos of her thoughts during those runs. I imagine they are full of years of wisdom.
At the Mountaineer Tri, I spent an awful lot of time thinking about my Mom. An awful lot of time. From my perspective, I had been dead last since around mile 40 -- about half way through the race. And dead last was becoming a very lonely place.
I worried about the people who were waiting for me. The friendly volunteers who were keeping their water stations open and resisting the strong urge to pack up the pretzels and dump the last remnants of ice in the grass. The spectators who had been out there for hours upon hours, now hoarse from cheering and with sore palms from clapping. And Mighty M, who had been awaken at 5 and then left to bounce around town for the whole day, trying to catch sight of me on the course.
You worry about these things when you're last. There's lots of time to.
The transition from the bike was uneventful. I grabbed my numerous GU packets and salt tabs that were part and parcel to my nutrition plan. I grabbed a throw away water bottle with plain water, so I could start drinking right away. Turned my number around and headed out.
The conversion from the solitary bike to the run was welcomed. The run course was a double loop, first paralleling the waterline and then veering into town for a portion of terrible hills. It was a truly pretty route, with the possible exception of Devil's Hill.
What was most pleasant about it was there were people!! So many spectators and racers were still around because a bulk of the group were on their second, and last loop. It helped energize my legs a little. It helped keep me focused and alert.
I started eating GU packets right away, as planned. One in transition, and then one every three miles. I kept filling my water bottle -- that I was gripping with some bionic strength and wouldn't let go. Problem was, I wasn't peeing. In fact, I hadn't peed all day. Um, not good.
Miles 0 - 5 were good. GU, water, run, water, GU, run, breathe, breathe. All good. I saw Mighty M so many times on the route, and each time was a new shot of energy and a dash of relief.
Around the fifth mile, the course turns into the hills of town, namely Devil's Hill. We had driven up it the night before and it had made the car down shift...twice. I'd say it's something like a 18% grade. It's insane. Everyone walks it -- you'd be foolish not to. And the whole three blocks of it, it gnaws on your hamstrings like red licorice laces. And at the top you feel like someone has injected pure lactic acid into the backs of your legs. Someone exceedingly mean.
Thankfully, the grade flattens for about a quarter of a mile, allowing you to recover from the beating. The next two miles are a series of steep assents (which I walked -- my momma didn't raise no fool!) and downhills. The campus area is actually really pretty and this part of the race was alright.
It was the second loop that I had to worry about.
You see, everyone I was running with kept encouraging me -- keep it up, you're almost there! Almost done!
I didn't have the heart to tell them that I was on my first loop. I just didn't have the heart.
Have you ever been the last person in a race? It's a unique experience. I never really paid much attention to the mental side of racing, since the articles always seem to speak to those who were racing, rather than just trying to finish.
But there is a huge mental task to being last. Huge. You run the race solo. You often have limited supplies left at rest stops. Volunteers are surprised to see you. The miles seem longer, since there is nobody to pace off of. In shorter races, this matters less. But in a race of this distance, it weighed heavily on my mind.
And my body started to protest the prolonged effort. My nutrition was fine -- thankfully there was no bonk in sight. But there was a general fatigue that began to set into my bones on the second loop. I had to force myself to keep up a modest pace, because the natural inclination was to slow way down. I took the occasional walk through a water station, but I tried to run the whole way, remembering Jen's advice about momentum and continuing to move forward.
At the turn around on the tow path -- somewhere around mile 8 -- I finally took a bathroom break. I figured, what the heck? I'm last! And at the stop, they asked if I was the last one. I said I didn't know for sure, but I suspected as much. When I was about 50 yards off, I heard them yell back at me that there was another person.
And, of course, they were right. There was one more runner who was plodding along about a 1/2 mile behind me. He looked like a very strong guy, so I assumed his bike sucked more than mine. He was friendly and it was a relief to know he was there.
The race director and I got to know each other well in the next 4 miles or so. Him, on his scooter with lots of reassuring words, and me plodding along at some god awful slow pace. I was starting to feel some generalized pain. Nothing specific, but my body was done. And I had at least 5 more miles to go.
At my darkest moment, I thought I would see Mighty M. On the first loop, he had been sitting under this one tree, near the finish. On this loop, he had moved and I missed him. I shuffled and kept running for another mile or so, wishing I could see his face. And then I did -- he was on the path ahead of me. He had been up talking to the college student who dresses up as the Devil on the big hill. He was cheering on those last few people in the race on the hardest section. He's that kind of guy.
He could see I was failing. Even in the pictures he took at that moment, I was clearly low, with my head down and left arm stretched out to block the camera. I wanted no more pictures. He ran along side of me for a little and I told him how tired I was and how I was the next to last person. I told him all those things I wanted to say when I rode past on the bike, what seemed like days ago. It all spilled out of me. And you could imagine his response.
So I did what he said. I kept on going. I had the hills left, but I already knew they would be walked. All I had to do was focus on finishing.
So I ran and ran. I walked the hills. I ran doggedly. My face all screwed with determination. I just kept going. The last mile was the hardest. I guess it always is.
And soon, I rounded the corner to the finish chute. No spectators were left. The race staff was busy, hunched over their laptops calculating placements, and were surprised to see me. There was no great announcement, and my name wasn't over the loud speaker.
But, let me tell you, I felt that finish line. I felt each and every inch of it. I pumped my thumbs up in the air for cameras that had packed up and left hours before. I smiled the biggest smile ever smiled in the history of smiles. Everyone in the med tent cheered and I was done.
It bears repeating.
I WAS DONE.
After 7 hours and 50 minutes of racing, I managed to complete my first half ironman. M was there to congratulate with hugs and proud words and I cried behind the lenses of my Oakleys. I didn't have a finishers metal to grip (we would find an abandoned one later in the, likewise abandoned, transition area) because they had run out.
But I was done.
And soon after, the very last person came down the shoot, with his kids and wife running along side. Turns out he was a Navy Seal. That must have been a hard bike for him.
At the end of the day, I actually was dead last. Once you accounted for who started when, I hold that distinction for this year's race. And I think my Mom would be proud. I really, really do.
When I think about this race, now that it's a couple of weeks behind me and I've gathered a little perspective on it, I think I was meant to finish that way. I think I needed to learn why that is just fine, and how irrelevant it is compared to why I am doing this.
I am doing this year -- the Iron training and the fundraising and the hours away from my "other" life -- do be a better person. Not to be a faster person, or a more competitive one. I'm doing it to grab hold of each moment I am alive and make the most out of it. Breathe each breath that I'm granted. Take full and complete advantage of the life that I have -- graciously free of disease and heartache and full of joy and wonderful people.
I want to serve as an example to Mighty M's nieces that they can do absolutely anything they set their mind to. I want my neighbor's kids to know that having dreams is truly living. I want my own girls one day to know that no matter what, they can touch every inch of this world. I want those things.
Someone joked with me recently about how they just don't know why I do this -- it's so hard and contrary to what comes easily for me, the other demands of my life and how my body is crafted. We had been talking about the Mountaineer race and the long march to the finish line.
And I realized I do this because it is the right thing to do. It's right to make the most of being on this earth -- being alive. My Mom had decades of her life stolen from her by cancer. But, she knew that you grab hold when you can and participate for the experience, not to avoid last place. Somewhere in those last 30 miles or so I dropped that knowledge and got distracted with numbers and expectations. Somewhere in those last turns and hills I forgot what she taught me with how she lived.
But I remember, now.
You do it because it is the right thing to do. You do it to place at all.
Total Run Time: 3:00:26
Run Pace: 13:46/mile
Total Overall Time: 7:50:21
Total Overall Place: 293 of 293
Athena Place: 2nd