So here we go, the Ballad of Colleen McGuinn and her Attack on Cambridge!
|sunrise near the finish line, 2 days before race-day|
(feel free to scroll down to the heading of RACE if you want to skip this prologue)
I took a ride over to Cambridge by myself on Thursday October 15th. With the race delay and everything else going on, I wanted to take the time to get "re-excited" about the race, be around fellow triathletes, check-in and get my swag, and sort of reset my brain that this was actually happening. It took about two hours to get through check-in, but I got my wristband, swim cap, running bib, and all the stickers for my bike and helmet. I was ready to go.
|bike bags being set up|
|running bags in a row|
My sister Marianne, a.k.a. the best sherpa ever, was going to take me to the race on Friday so I could drop off my bike and whatever else, and then we were staying over in nearby Easton. My mom came to pick me up Friday morning to transport the bike, my dog, and me back to her house
|my mama, Camden, and me|
|St. Christopher, my main man|
|and we are a go! all checked in!|
O.k., now I need to pause and explain something else that was going on. As I have eluded to in a previous post, things have been a bit stressful for me these days between Ironman and work, and other things going on with me physically. I woke up a few days prior to this with what I thought was a zit growing along my jaw line on the left side. It hurt a bit, but sometimes they do. Like all red-blooded Americans, I prodded it and messed with it. It was still there Friday morning when I left for Cambridge. By lunch, I used the bathroom and was noticing it was actually hurting without me touching it. I noticed in the mirror that my jaw was a little swollen. I didn't say anything to Marianne for another hour or so, but finally let her see. She could tell it was a little swollen but neither of us were concerned at this point.
|artwork from the local elementary school wishing us luck!|
We checked into the hotel in Easton -- the Best Western which was AMAZING. My Dad has become friendly with the Manager, Mr. Diggs, who was super kind to us and got us a room at the last minute after the change in date. We laid around for a little bit, then met Hugh at the Olive Garden for dinner. My favorite pre-race (longer races anyway) dinner is simple pasta with marinara and shrimp, and salad. So that's what we had. Back to my jaw, I noticed during dinner it hurt to open my mouth. I could feel a lump under my skin; I could feel how swollen my jaw was at that point. I was starting to freak out internally.... maybe it was a tumor; maybe it was Ebola, maybe it is a major infection that is going to poison my blood. I was thinking I should go to urgent care and have someone look at it; but I was simultaneously refusing to go because I was terrified a doc would say I couldn't race.
When we got back to the hotel, Marianne looked at my face and said we needed to go. She basically talked me into it, echoing what I had already been thinking. I was in some serious pain too. It felt like a weight attached to my face, like I had been punched in the jaw. That's basically what it looked like too. And so we went to the ER at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore Hospital.... at 8:00 at night.
|thumbs up outside the ER|
|Ironman & ER bracelets|
So back to the hotel we went. It was a pretty quick experience, even stopping to get the prescription at Walgreens. I got back, put on my pajamas, and finished my pre-race water bottle prep and other things. I also attached my temporary tattoo I had made with a list of all my Warriors and Angels: the loved ones belonging to friends and family who had donated to my fundraiser through The Little Things for Cancer
|this list brought me so much strength|
|my beautiful warrior|
The alarm went off at 4:20. I got up and began to get ready. I put on my sports bra and a pair of tri-shorts to wear under the wetsuit, then put on sweatpants, a long sleeve tee, fleece, wool socks and sneakers.
2 mini bagels with peanut butter
It was chilly when we got outside, and a bit colder still when we got to Cambridge on the water. The temperature reading I heard was 44 degrees in the transition area, with a water temp of (gulp) 63 degrees! Marianne dropped me off, and I made my way over to transition. I had to get my body marked with my race number (on my biceps) and my age (on my right calf). Then I headed over to my bike to assemble my water bottles. I also have a small bag, a bento box it is called, that is attached to the front of the bike below the handle bars to keep food. I put in my Peanut Butter M&M's and a bag of peanut butter pretzels. Peanut butter is a major theme for me, as you'll see. The pretzels and M&M's were meant to supplement my major nutrition and to give me a little treat along the way. I had 4 water bottles: pineapple Skratch, raspberry Skratch, water, and mango Gatorade. My friend Michelle was racked three bikes away from me, so we walked around together, going over to our gear bags to add a few things.
|hanging with Ironman Michelle in transition|
|look at all those bikes!|
I put my main source of nutrition on the bike in my gear bag. I packed five Smuckers sandwiches; they come frozen and are round with sealed edges.... so when you bite it, the jelly and such doesn't come out. I had two peanut butter and grape jelly, one strawberry (which housed my antibiotic pill) and two nutella. I have eaten this many times on practice rides, going 18 mph. I manage it very well, and I have had no "bonk" or depleted nutrition issues when using these little sandwiches. The plan was one sandwich every 20 miles, and a sip of a drink every 5 miles.
I then went about putting on my wetsuit, and putting my warm clothes back over that. Putting on a wetsuit, if you have never done it, is a bit of a gymnastics exercise. I was shaking from the cold, so someone had to help me with my zipper in the back. Then I made my way over towards the swim start to find my sister and Hugh. The race was originally supposed to start at 6:50, but with the two week delay and the changing of the seasons, it was going to be too dark. They had predicted a start time of more like 7.
As we were standing around, I also ran into my work-friend Amy and her "new" husband Tim... they had just gotten married last week, and delayed their honeymoon so Tim could race Ironman after the race date had been changed. I was glad I got to see them, and gave Tim a hug and wished him luck. I assumed I would likely not see him again, with all the people who were racing and such. Little did I know...
Then came the announcement. The winds, which were obviously terrible, had created a dangerous situation on the water. A watercraft advisory had been issued, so the race people could not endanger the volunteers who would be out on the paddle boats in the river guiding us. At first, they said we were going to just do one loop of 1.2 miles, half the distance required. As the minutes went on, and the sun came up, the wind died down a bit. So just before go time, they announced we would swim 3000 meters or 1.9 miles, just a half mile shy of the full distance. My race had become 139.1 miles. While I was a little disappointed, I was grateful we were getting to swim at all. And really a half mile was nothing and made no impact on the magnitude of what was happening. They played the National Anthem at that point, and while I always sing along with my hand on my heart, I couldn't get out the words. I had started to cry... I'm a crier. And the emotions (fear, joy, bravery, confidence, dread, anxiety) all started to come to the surface. And so I cried. Then it was time to go lineup, and I turned to hug my sister. I hugged her so hard, and started to cry again. She was crying too.
|sunrise on the river|
|ready to roll!|
|see the red arrow to the right? that's me|
|swimmers heading out|
I felt like lead the first 3/4 of a mile. My shoulder felt heavy. Oh, and it was pretty cold. The wetsuit was a miracle as my body felt very warm. But my face... I started to sing the song "I Can't Feel My Face" at one point. I was passing a lot of people, but not getting passed. I did not get pushed around much, but I credit my swimming years during meet warmups for that kind of toughness. I just kept going. When I finished the first loop, my watch said "22 min." Wow, that was pretty fast. And it was so very windy and choppy too. As I rounded the buoy for the second lap, I came smack into a wall of humanity... the slower swimmers. I am not talking trash or anything, it was just not what I expected to happen. I was very disoriented as I was trying to figure out where all these people had come from. Then I was trying to figure out how to gracefully go around them without pushing or going over them; I think "newer swimmers" have it so much harder than me. Swimming is so natural for me, but here are a huge group of people dealing with fear and cold and nerves while trying to swim. The LAST thing I wanted was to hurt someone by trying to go around them. So it was tedious, but then I just moved to the far left and found open water, and just went forward. I was silently cheering for the first lap swimmers.... I hope they all made the cut-off.
If I had done the full 2.4 miles, my time would have been under an hour. I would have been able to do another half mile in about 12 minutes. Hooray!
So this was a first for me: the strippers. Two people basically assist you by ripping your wetsuit off before you go change into your bike gear. Having never worn a wetsuit, I had no idea what to expect or what to do. These two guys came up to me and started undoing the zipper and helping me pull the suit off my arms. They were yelling, "You can't lay down until we get this off your arms!" It was all very funny to me. I got down on the ground and, whoop! off it came. I was laughing so hard. I said to them, "First time I've seen strippers that don't require a 2 drink minimum." They were cracking up. And I randomly found a photo of me being stripped in an album of the event online. It captures me laughing at the absurdity of the moment, the fact that the entire world was witnessing my white belly, or "big fluffy" to borrow my friend Anne's phrase.
|funniest moment of the day|
Transition One time: 9:43
The bike. Basically, it was awful. At first I was fine, and I was really trying to enjoy the beauty of the day. It was a bit cold, but the sun was out and the ride itself was pretty. But the wind. My god the wind. I heard later it gusted about 30 mph at certain points. I was able to get a good clip going and then I would turn and the wind would be there. I think maybe I had 20 miles of the whole thing without headwind. At no point could I feel my toes; they were basically frozen. I would wiggle them sometimes to make sure it wasn't a circulation problem, but basically I had no feeling in them.
I saw Marianne at Mile 12, cheering like crazy. I had stopped before that to pee (see, should have gone before). I was sticking to my hydration plan of every 5 miles. I snacked on pretzels and M&M's to keep up morale.
At my first sandwich break, at Mile 20, I pulled out one of the Nutella ones. As I took a bite, the crust gave way and Nutella shot out onto my handlebars, my face, and my clothes. I kept thinking how fitting that was, me covered in Nutella. I had a nice stain on my black shorts, and I wondered if Andy Potts has ever done an Ironman with a Nutella stain on his shorts? Or with it on his handlebars? Probably not.
The other hard thing for me is that since my swim is so strong, I get passed throughout the entire bike leg, as I am a mediocre cyclist. I think I passed only 3 or 4 people total. It is mentally draining, and a bit hard to watch people fly by. I go back to what my swim coach John, from growing up, use to say, that I need to swim or do my own race and not worry about anyone else. He hasn't been my coach in 22 years, and I still was clinging to that advice.
The first 56 mile loop was tough but I was okay. I passed by my friends Liz, Amy and Molly right before the "special needs bag" stop, cheering on a corner. There, I reloaded my peanut butter pretzels and ate my "Congrats You are Halfway" cookie. I re-upped my Gatorade bottle and water bottle. Then I took out my chamois butter... so in bike shorts, if you don't know, there are seams that can sometimes cause chaffing. The butter is a thick cream you put on your skin or on the seams of the pants to prevent chaffing. My original application of the butter in the changing tent was wearing away, so I had extra in my special needs bag. In front of God and all the volunteers, and like the true lady I can be, I basically went about shoving my hand down my pants to reapply. No time for modesty. There was a guy next to me doing the same thing, and we laughed.
|known for being flat, this is the "hill" that is marked on the course|
I started the second loop, and I kept telling myself that everything was fine. The course, a notoriously flat one, felt hilly to my legs due to the wind. I was smart enough to bring down my gear and spin my legs a bit so that I didn't trash them trying to fight the wind.
The time came to eat my strawberry jelly sandwich with the antibiotic secreted into it. I did not think about it at the time, but the warmth of being in my pocket "melted" the capsule, so it tasted like chemicals. I choked it down, almost threw up, and then was gargeling and choking down Gatorade to get ride of the acrid taste, all while pedaling. It was so gross.
At Mile 92, I stopped at the water stop to re-up my fluids and to pee again. I made friends with some of the guys waiting to pee. Everyone was having a hard time with the wind, which made me feel better.
At Mile 105, I heard a voice behind me say, "It took me all day, but I finally caught you." It was newly-wed Tim. He slowed so we could chat a minute, checking on each other in as far as body temperature and fuel. Then he went on ahead, and I finished out the last seven miles.
Apparently, at other Ironman events, when you finish the bike, there are volunteers called "bike catchers." They take your bike and go re-rack it, while you head over to the tents to change into your running gear. Due to the change in date, they did not have enough volunteers. So once off the bike, I had about a quarter mile or so to run, rack, run to the tent and then change. I was so relieved to be done that crazy windy bike! Someone captured this random photo of me at dismount. I can totally see my swollen jaw in this one too.
Transition Two time: 12:17
I felt great when I started to run. I think I was just high from being finished the bike without injury and with plenty of time to finish. I knew that I was going to finish at that point; I knew it was just a question of my legs and my brain working together. I knew I could do it. I was elated. That kept me going for quite sometime. At around Mile 6, I had caught back up with Tim... he was coming out of a port-a-potty...
I did not want to presume we would be similarly paced or anything. I just said "Hi" and kept running. Then he was behind me and said, "I'm right behind you, drafting." I laughed, and we started to run side by side. He suggested we run together, which always makes a long run easier. I agreed, but said he could go on at any point if I needed to walk. My goal had been to get through 10 to 12 miles before thinking about walking, mostly because I had been dealing with IT band issues in my left knee and tendonitis in my right hip. I was willing to push through to just about half way, but I didn't want to break myself. I had time; I would finish. Tim told me his coach suggested he find a buddy to run with anyway, so he figured why not run with someone who was already kind of a friend?
Mind you, I know Tim. We have met a few times, and over the summer with Ironman training and such, we have crossed paths. But I wouldn't have said we were close friends or knew much about each other. Well, that has all changed. The sacredness of a long run really can bond two people. And in this case, Tim and I were going through an awful lot of pain. We overshared on so many things, talked about our children and our own childhoods. We quoted "Wedding Crashers." He told me all about his wedding to Amy. We got through 14 miles before I desperately needed to stop so I could poop (sorry).
|running with Tim|
My wonderful family showed up to cheer me on. They were at the turn-around in town (right near a brew pub... figures). Their spot was just passed Mile 10, again at Mile 20, and then one more time just before heading down the finishers chute. There they were, in the windy cold air: my sister, my oldest brother John, my parents, my godparents, James and the kids, and my dear friends Jen and Mike with their two children Joe and Jack. They were all there with signs and cheering. It gave me such a huge lift to be able to hug them and kiss them. And they were all wearing amazing shirts for me. My BRF Tricia had them designed and made... here she is modeling it:
The hard part of the running course is that they have you run past the finishers chute 5 times before you can actually go down it. So while you get to see your family several times, and run past a lot of cheering spectators, you have to mentally deal with seeing the finish several times before it is finally your turn! On the first loop, when we passed it, we were only 10 miles in so not too bad off yet.
|heading towards the turn-around in town, around Mile 10|
|my family cheering at the turn around|
|cheerleaders need to eat too|
|hands down, my cutest fan!|
I was carrying this ziploc bag full of notes and well wishes from some friends and family. I read a few of them during the run, but drew so much comfort, feeling them in my pocket.
|my bag of notes, compiled by Tricia|
It got so cold. The wind was terrible, especially on the far side of town. Tim and I got quiet at certain points, each dealing with our own thoughts. I would recite the names of my Warriors and Angels on my tattoo in my mind; I would touch Sue's name. Tim encouraged me to run when I really didn't want to; I think I kept him entertained with my antics and stories. I always hope I did not slow him up at all, but I think we just were meant to find each other.
|Mile 20, donned my throw-away shirt & holding my sock-gloves|
On one of the last times I saw my family, my sister said that my Dad wanted to run the last mile with me to the finish, just along the sidelines. So when Tim and I hit that last turn at 25, we said goodbye and he went ahead to his finish line. My Dad and sister ran beside me, just a little behind. It was so very touching.
As I got close, I started to choke up. I was about to do my ugly-cry-but-I'm-happy face. I made that face all the way down the aisle on my wedding day, and the photos were terrible. I swear, I had that thought, that I didn't want to look like my wedding photos coming down the aisle. So I started to just breathe and ran towards one side where I could slap hands with spectators. I high fived everyone and began to pump my arms. I heard the announcer call Tim's name. About 30 seconds later... I was there...
"Colleen McGuinn of Catonsville, Maryland... YOU. ARE. AN IRONMAN!"
A volunteer, called a "catcher" grabbed my arm and wrapped me in one of those metallic space blankets. A medal was put around me neck; a water put in my hands. James and the kids were standing right there, and I finally got to go over to the side and hug them. My sister, Dad, Mom and godparents were there too. I can't even put words to this moment.
|chatting with my "catcher"|
|Uncle Frank & Aunt Betty, my godparents|
|mom & me|
|best parents ever|
I did well with nutrition and hydration as I felt fine in that respect. I was very punchy and was rambling, but I did not feel like anything was wrong with my "systems." I was so happy to be done, though it was so crazily surreal.
When we got back to the hotel, I took a hot shower, had a glass of wine, and went to sleep. It was an amazing day that I am still trying to completely absorb.
I need to thank Tim for that wonderful run leg. It was terrible and painful, but it was actually "fun" because I had you there. Thank you for being so encouraging.
I need to thank my sister, Marianne, the best Sherpa ever. Thank you for taking care of me, of navigating me through the day until the start. Thank you for cheering for me, for taking care of my kids when it was over, and for being my best friend.
Thanks to my parents, my godparents, the Skis, and my brother John for being there, for cheering for me, for being the best support system ever. To my BRF for the pep talks and fun race preps like the shirts, thank you so much. And all my friends and family who posted and cheered for me from home, that meant the world to me.
And thank you James, Jack and Julia. You are my everything. This would not mean much at all without you.