You never even know if you never even tried… So Irene jumped into the water, hopped on the bike and pounded the pavement for the better part of the day around the town called Gilford in the state of New Hampshire!
This past weekend the boys and I watched Irene compete her first Half Ironman Race, and despite the word Half in the name. It takes FULL dedication and commitment. Months of training and conditioning goes into the preparation for any race, but combining a 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike and a 13.1 run is an incredible feat to undertake. In addition to different ailments, working full time, taking care of 3 kids, learning to swim, getting pulled from multiple triathlons, getting into a car accident 3 weeks before the race, then pulling her back 2 weeks before the race, all goes to show you that Irene is the definition of Perseverance.
When Irene decided to do an Half Ironman, the original plan was to take on the flat Ironman Princeton 70.3 and registration was to begin early spring for the September race, giving Irene plenty of time to train. However Princeton eventually notified everyone that they had to cancel the race because they could not obtain the proper permits to host the race. So, Irene decided on Ironman Timberman 70.3. It happened to be a race I did last year.
It was very tempting to do the race with her, but I really wanted to be focused on her and being her support team as she did when I trained for Ironman Arizona. This is Her Year!
She was already building a base, and now it was about to be kicked up several notches! For the swim, she worked hard in the pool with Danielle Sullivan (our coach and the person who taught Irene how to swim) and added Brian Krut’s Open Water Swim of Long Island into her week. I just remember thinking, Wow, I was doing that last year and not thinking anything of it. And now Irene was doing it and always making all the swim practices.
In preparation of the hills of New Hampshire for the bike section, we biked the Quassy Course, Bear Mountain Harriman Loop, and even a loop of Ironman Lake Placid. All very difficult courses and she did them all. During the Quassy Preview, we followed the wrong route, but that is a different story!
However going into the race, she knew she would have difficulty with the run portion, so she focused on the swim and bike to get the job done. Towards the later months of the training, Danielle added more biking to compensate for the reduced running because of her bad back.
With all the training done, taper time was about to commence and BAM, she got into a car accident that totalled my Honda Insight, 3 weeks prior to the race. Then a week later she pulls her back. Taperville had her well rested going into the race.
Going into the weekend, I was more anxious than Irene. She was calm and relaxed, she allowed herself to trust her training despite many setbacks over the course of the year. She did the majority of the workouts and felt prepared. For her, it was going to be another training day.
As for me, I am always calculating in my head, time and pace to get the race done in a certain goal. I usually get disappointed with myself for not hitting certain targets during the later stages of the race. She knew what she had to do with her split times.
The Pro Men took off, then the Pro Women, and Irene’s group was Wave 5. She smiled, which she normally never does before a race. Which was a great sign. Her plan was to stay far left away from the madness of the being close to the buoy line, however, I noticed that she stayed in the middle. As soon as she took off, I started my stopwatch on my phone and headed to the swim finish, to witness my friends hop out of the water, one by one. Eventually 1:00 popped up, then 1:05 and I started to worry because the time limit for her was 1:10. I started to pray that she did not panic or get pulled into a boat. Then my friend Colleen found me and said that Christina saw Irene pass, I am like no way. Colleen again said, she’s out of the water, so I check the website and she was out in 51:51. I was unhappy that I did not get a chance to shout Irene’s name or take a picture of her exiting. In fact, the official photographer has me looking out into the water like an idiot as Irene passes him.
So it sunk in that she did the swim in less than an hour, I immediately had to look up my time from last year and went to the Timberman Results website to look up my time. I did it in 50:27 which was really tough for me. She said the swim was great and it was easy for her!
Obviously, I missed her bike mount as well, but the ice cream hut just opened up, so we had some scoops of Jordan’s Ice Cream. Colleen and I then grabbed our kids and found a spot near the bike finish and was lucky to find a picnic table under a tree. We sat in the shade for the next few hours. Colleen’s husband was doing the bike segment of his relay team with Christina on the swim and Erick on the run. Combined they produced a time that placed them 4th out of 56 relay teams.
For the next 3 hours, I relaxed and waited for my friends and Irene to cycle back into transition. And I figured since the roads are semi-closed, no selfies, and cross roads would be monitored, she should be back in 4 hours. Then 4 ½ hours past, Then 5 hours. Then I was sort of freaking out thinking a phone call would be coming or something like that. I’m thinking she might have fell down one of the hills and lying in a ditch behind a tree.
Finally, we see Irene pedaling back with a frown, and heads into transition. I run over to the transition and watch her rack her bike, and I am thinking, did the race director tell her to stop when she got back. Is she allowed to go on the run? So I waited a couple minutes and she ran out the run out, and I see a big gash on her left knee, and I heard her say she fell on the first hill. And she continued on with a grimace as she shuffled away for the first loop of the run course. Will her leg give out?
I knew the run portion would be tough, as she had limited time training for the run. She’s always had back pains so, I figured that she would do her best, but I was certain that she would be pulled from the race for not making the cut-off times along the course. So, I did not move and waited on at the picnic table until she came back from the first loop.
Eventually, she came around the bend for the second loop. In fact, our friend, The Very Easy Looking Charlie was blocking her as he was leaving with his bike out of the transition area. She paused for him to get out of the way. I can see him giving her some words of encouragement. As she passed by, the boys cheered her on. Charlie walked up and I was telling him, I am pretty sure she is passed the cut-off time and I am not sure what the race director will be doing.
Either the race director got scared when she looked at Irene’s direction or Irene did not hear the race director. Either way, she was going to keep going! That is Perseverance!!!!
Since the transition was breaking down, I decided to grab Irene’s bike and bring her gear back to the truck, so she did not have to walk any more to get her stuff after she finishes. We then returned back to the run finish chute and waited. I am praying that she is ok, nothing went wrong, or she did not get pulled from the course. About an hour and 10 minutes into the second loop, I told the boys that I was going out on the run course to see where Mom was.
10 minutes later, I get a text that said that Christina was waiting with the boys, for which I am grateful. As I walked along Scenic Drive, I shouted at the Potta-Potties, “Irene are you in there!”
I saw participant coming towards me in a red top next to a bike support, and overheard some chatter through the bikers radio about the last person on the course. It was not Irene, but as soon as she got close enough, I ask, “Was there anyone behind you in a blue top.” They both said, “Yes!” and I congratulated her and walked faster down the road.
About 2 miles into my walking, I came to the crest of the steepest hill on the run course from what I remember. I could see her frown and the first thing she said to me was that her feet were on Fire! The dumping of water on herself to cool herself down, waterlogged her shoes causing blisters on her soles. All I remember saying was that I was Super Proud of her, the kids are waiting at the Finish Line and keep moving forward.
I ignored the the swept car behind her, thinking that if I ignored them, they would not dare pull her into it. Eventually, she jogged, so I jogged, then walked, and I walked. Going back and forth with the volunteers that we passed on the course clapping and cheering her on.
I asked her about her bloody knee that seemed to attract insects to nibble on it. She clarified that her legs gave out on her during bike mount, which she fell and almost knocked down a fellow participant. The volunteer helped her up and off she went, she realized that her brake was rubbing against her wheel for 35 miles, she could not adjust it with her hands because it still kept on going back to rubbing after hitting the brakes. She was able to get bike support at mile 35, but by that time, her legs were definitely burnt out,
I’ve been texting Danielle most of the day, so I figured Irene would like to hear her voice so I called her, then she called back and I put her on the speaker. Danielle was happy to hear that Irene was still moving and getting closer to the finish!
It did not dawn on me that she was the last person on the course, but it’s better to be the last person, because you get recognized! The sweep car watched out for her to make sure she was safe. A bike volunteer lead in front of her to warn any oncoming vehicles to move to the side.
Just before making the final turn, I ran ahead to the finish line to capture her in the chute and let the boys run along with her towards the finish for about 200 yards. The race announcer called Irene’s name and the photographer took some final pics with her and the race director, and they draped her with a cool wet towel.
She did it! She never gave up!
We all gave her a hug as she teared up. Her emotions were running strong. Eventually, we guided her down to Lake Winnipesaukee, to cool off and I texted Emily that Mom did it!
I was so happy that the Race did not ask her to get into the car, they did remind her of the pace she needed to maintain to complete the race. Even though she does not have an official time, she travelled 70.3 freaking miles of swimming, biking and running combined. That is an extraordinary feat to accomplish.
Doing triathlons, you are never alone. Being part of the Wildwood Warriors with our homebase at Wildwood Lake in Riverhead and our Coach’s Team Iron Fit Endurance, felt so welcoming. The support is incredible. It definitely does make a difference in participating in these tough events. While these races have incredible spectators cheering you on, knowing someone doing the race or friends cheering you on takes the experience to a whole new level of connection.
Participating in a races of this magnitude takes months of training, and race day is the end cap of sometimes grueling training schedule. There is a special connection when you know a friend or loved one who is racing. It’s like walking in someone else’s shoes for a mile, and you understand what they had to go through to get there. Or should I say Running Shoes?
I can’t thank enough, my Iron Fit Endurance team mates who did the race, Shelley, Christa and Peter. Big shout outs to my Wildwood Warrior Team at the race as well, June,
The Very Easy on the Eyes Charlie, Scotty, Isa, Mike and Jenny, Staci, Mary, Stephanie, Rick, Amy, Kevin, Nina, Carol and Tom, Todd, Erick, Kristen, Joanne, who always seems to be around to comfort me when I am worried, Mary Beth, who happened to be next to Irene in transition and at the start of the swim, which made Irene looked relaxed, Brian and Colleen for having their kids around for my kids to hang with, and Christine (one of my caucasian friends), who stayed with the boys and waited for Irene to finish down the chute.
Looking forward to being her Sherpa for 2016!
Looking forward to being her Sherpa for 2016!