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Where do I start? I guess it starts where the journey begins…back at Christmastime when I learned I would be a part of this amazing, energized, empowered group of women called Team Equally Inspiring/Tri Equal. The day I learned I made the team, I was about to head out for a 15-mile run on trails. This was in preparation to compete in the “Dopey Challenge” 48.6 at Disney World for my 40th birthday (running the 5k, 10k, Half Marathon and Full Marathon in a four-day period).
As a longtime runner and “casual” road cyclist (I had all the gear and had been on maybe 10 road rides on a great bike I got for a steal – off a neighbor cyclist who was moving five years ago on a whim)…I was hesitant to think I could become a “true triathlete.” Much less…dare I say it…the pinnacle of the pinnacle for Tri folks…an Ironman? (Well, half IM…but still, part of the club). When I ran my first marathon, I had never run so much as a 5k (and I was dared to run the London marathon in 2010 at age 32). How was this any different…no triathlon experience…an Ironman sounds perfectly suitable. Right?
Maybe it’s turning 40. Or it’s being a daredevil/closet rebel/status quo change maker. Or just being up for some inspiration – but I was all in. My coach, Lizzie Nyitray, was awesome from day 1. Hitting Training Peaks was simple, and she loaded me up each week with the (deep breath) major details. I knew the training would be hard. I picked an Ironman! Years of marathons taught me that if you go big or go home, you better be ready to train for it.
I’m sure I gave Lizzie a coaching challenge, because I was lax on the heart rate monitors and she had to explain just about everything swimming to me – a true fish out of water (pun intended, sea legs don’t come naturally to this road beast!) I also travel for work, so swims had to be on the weekend – and I got a LOT of work done in the wee hours of Hilton basement gyms (oh, the stories!)
Six months later, here goes to race weekend. I was amped, no seriously – keyed up and nervous all week, like my first marathon. So many unknowns, so many variables. What were transitions like? What if I DNF’ed on the swim (come on, I had two open water swims in my whole life?) I didn’t sign up to DNF…insert bunny trail on how maybe I could go swim three more times just in case…oh wait, I have to get on a plane…After getting through the week of travel, time to hit the road for Ohio from our home in Charlotte. I think I hydrated enough for six camels (nervous habit) and made my husband stop about each hour for pit stops. The internal dialogue continued…”will I need the wetsuit? Wait, don’t I WANT the wesuit? What if my bike gets a flat? Why can’t this just be a run…I know how to lace shoes up…” That night, I’m pretty sure I could have been given a tranquilizer dart the size for a rhino…but I finally fell asleep. Athlete briefings, check in, transition drops in the AM. Focus, Clark…FOCUS!
Hitting the Ironman Village at 10am, you feel it crossing the threshold. This. Is. Legit. Seeing World Champions (both male & female). People with $10,000 bikes getting tuned. Massages. The energy was intense, beautiful, nerve-wracking and exciting, all balled into one 200sf area. I registered, got my transition bags and red wristband for volunteers (to give to your favorite volunteer on the course…and it gets competitive! Volunteers like to see who can collect the most red bands). Then it was hitting the athlete briefing. What an awesome overview (I wish they did this at marathons!) I knew the rules, the regulations, the penalties…and the course. And wetsuits…day of race call, kids. Bring ‘em if you’ve got ‘em! Got my biked tuned onsite, dropped the run transition bag in Selby Stadium (also the dramatic finish site) at Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware, Ohio. It all hits home when you see 2500 bags racked and ready…
Stopped into a brewery for a quick lunch on Delaware’s Main Street, where our server was gushing about Ironman and how awesome it was to see a woman there. She was so excited for me, and it was a neat feeling – a college student, it was out of her realm of people she knew. We had a great conversation about training, possibilities and reaching past goal limitations. At the end of the meal, I went up to the bar and threw my red band in her hands. I gave her a challenge – “Next year, see you. Yes?” She gave me a smile. Hey, I planted the seed. It starts there. Off to Delaware Beach State Park, bike drop and check out the swim course. Seemed fairly simple (no buoys out yet, but lots of folks practicing in the chop in their wetsuits). I put my feet in the water – cool to this South Carolinian – but also knew it was a warm afternoon ahead. “Be prepared for anything…wetsuit or not, game face. You’ve got this.” (My mantra has always been, “you’ve got this” under any pressure – going back to the Boston Marathon in 2013, when the first bomb detonated 15 yards to my left).
Off to pack at home for the big day – transition bag for the morning, put on TriTats (body marking…when you get really comfortable with your age, considering you have to wear it on your calf!) Bed early, no takebacks – we had to grab a parking spot early at Delaware Beach, which meant 3am wakeup call for a 4:30am transition drop. My husband is a trooper in more ways than one – Sherpa, positive energy, chauffeur – and up alongside me as my driver.
4:30am at Delaware Beach – wow, the energy was buzzing already, and it wasn’t just the music out of the loudspeaker! Watching the sun rise with all these athletes, what a magical moment of unity. Almost like, “we’re about to do this together…and it’s a battle. Get ready for battle.” They made the call at 5am for wetsuit legal, so suit up! I was all in and took to the water for a little warm up. I was heat 17 in the 40-44 group, so I knew I had some time.
Watching the first heat roll – men 35-39 – it was insane. What a free for all, but in a crazy choreographed way? It was like watching sharks act like birds act like bees – this wicked energy & rhythm and manic chaos, all at once. “Be ready for anything, you’ve got this.” 1:10. Just beat the clock and get to the bike.
Our heat – take to the water, get warmed up, wait the three minutes before the horn, and ROLL. I tried to find a line on the outside, advice from friends who said that folks wanting PRs would be hitting the inside lines and tangents at the turn buoys. I got it. That is absolutely not me today…and there goes the horn!
Chaos ignites – freestyle with 150 other women clawing it out (in a good way). I kept taking in water of those around me and couldn’t find my rhythm, which made me start panicking. There’s this moment when you think you’re drowning, like, “wait, nobody said I could drown here. This is nuts.” And then this surreal moment when I went inside myself and hit the darkest place – only to hear, “you can get through anything. REALLY.” Whether that was God, my conscience, another world, who knows…but I was listening! I focused on the breathing and the stroke…strong & steady, strong & steady…and I started singing Taylor Swift’s “Out of the Woods.” Don’t ask. It was repetitive…get me outta the woods…outta the woods…and yes, a little insane.
That last 200 meters was a fight – a literal fight. Folks were swimming over each other, I got kicked in the gut, and countless arms to the nose…but it’s the race to get out. Just. Get. There. I couldn’t swim fast enough to hit bottom with my feet and thought nothing about flying out of that water. Surprisingly, I wasn’t disoriented as many said I would be – maybe it was relief to get out of the water!
Hit the bike and flew threw transition in 4 minutes (still not really sure how I did that one) and was on my way. Did I DNF? Nobody took my ankle chip, was that good? Another lady at my bike rack had to tell me, “you must have done it in under 55, I was right after you and I’m 57…so go, go, go!” I ran my bike out to the mount line and clipped in. Let’s regroup!
Started to pedal and saw my husband, who didn’t sight me at first. It was a funny joke as I said, “hey Brian, aren’t you supposed to be calling for me, not me for you?!” Everyone was laughing as he took a quick picture mid-motion – I was on a 56-mile mission, better take it quickly! Out to the flats, trekking to Marion 30 miles north before hitting turn loop.
Nobody told me about headwinds – that was fun (and I’m kidding on that one!) For 30 miles north, it was nice and flat cornfields, but it was all. Headwinds. The fastest I could swing was a 16mph consistently, which was a little frustrating – my legs had the energy and the power. I focused on the fueling and my coach Lizzie’s words – “REMEMBER TO ENJOY THIS. It’s your first & you don’t want to remember how you were spazzing over fuel or bikes or weather.” It was awesome to have people who looked at our alien aero-bikes (farmers, folks outside of Moose Lodges in rural Ohio) and for them to have cowbells, cheering us on. That’s my America.
The back loop had some hills, which I actually loved. Downshift and use the power – I had trained for this! I was able to catch a bunch of folks on the hills (we call it “chicking” someone in running), which gave me something to do. Focused on being Pac-Man during the last 15 miles as we got back to civilization, towards the transition. I knew it was going to be hot once I got off the bike and prepped in my head for the transition. Fuel. Sunscreen. Hat. Drink something.
Saw the family as I hit the dismount line at Selby Stadium, which was a huge boost. My father-in-law said, “it’s the RUN – you KNOW this part!!!” And he was right. Don’t focus on the full sun or the heat (it was 1pm by this time and 88 degrees with full sun & humidity). I knew what to do – focus on fueling with light carbs, easy to digest drinks and Gatorade vs. heavy gels. I get heat!
Saw a bunch of Wattie Ink training crew on the way, and it was always fun to hear, “Go Wattie Girl!” I’d say the same back – we’re a tribe, those of us who wear the Wattie kits. As I ran the first three, it was a decline – note to self, you’re coming home uphill. Be prepared. Took in slow strides and made a mental partnership with myself –no walking until the aid station. The heat was brutal, and people were dropping like flies to walk and/or hit the medical tents. Just. Keep. Going.
Our run, from mile three through 11, was a double loop of rolling hills. It was a mental game to get through the first loop, knowing you had another one – and also to hear the cheers of “you’re almost there!” when you know you’ve got 11 miles in the ringer. You’ve been here before, Demi. Get over it.
Something came through my head around mile 7, “congratulate everyone you pass. Tell them congrats on the awesome finish and way to get after it.” So I started saying that to everyone, great effort, congrats ahead of time on your amazing finish – the assumptive close. It was like getting a power pack – they got energized, and I got energized giving my energy away. I ran faster, knowing I had less than halfway to go.
Up that hill – I knew, it’s a 5k, man. You’ve done a million and a half 5ks – anyone can do a 5k. Up the hill, seeing other finishers walking with their bikes and medals….that’s going to be you…that’s going to be you…keep rolling. I think my splits picked up like crazy that last two miles, knowing I’d see my husband and kids, as well as that famous finish line chute of “IRONMAN!”
There it was…hearing my kids, “GO MOMMY IRONMAN!” and rounding the corner for the stadium. Nothing makes me prouder than seeing my girls see me accomplish something that they could do someday. We have to show them what’s possible in everyday life…yes, you can be this. Yes, even me. Yes, even you. Just YES.
It was everything I’ve ever felt in one moment – hitting that chute, I fist pumped my arms and had ZERO desire to cry – this wasn’t mushy, this was adrenaline of “seriously, I want to go hang out with Wonder Woman. We could go fight crime today.” I loved every second of that finish, and it shows on my face. It wasn’t relief – it was straight up joy at what the human body…what a FEMALE human body…can do.
It’s five days later, and I’ve had a lot of people say to me, “holy cow – what an accomplishment.” Yes, true….but you’d be surprised what the human body can do. It’s only the beginning for me. I want to see girls in triathlons. Women in Tri Clubs. Access to be available to all races, colors, genders, financial status (this is an expensive sport!) But the rewards…oh, the rewards. And the tribe I was lucky and BLESSED enough to join. Yes, the Ironman Tribe (what a family). But also the Equally Inspiring Team tribe full of inspirational women triathletes, brand new to the sport – and the coaches who donated their expertise, time, and individual love of the sport in honor of their own journey.
Can’t beat it. Want to start? Toe up, we’ve got a patch of sand for you. It’s up to all of us to introduce the sport to someone else, and to keep this match lit strongly. As for me? I’m in for Chattanooga 2018. Let’s roll. You’ve got this!
A note from Equally Inspiring – Demi worked with Coach Lizzie Nyitray. Thank you for donating your expertise to Tri Equal and the Equally Inspiring program