Ironman Countdown

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

annnnnd..... SCENE: The Ironman Maryland Race Report (and so much more)

Hello my friends.  I made it.  I wrote my first entry 1 year and 2 weeks ago, and I am now an Ironman.  I am about to embark on the entire tale of that entire day, and the hours leading up to it.  This could be awhile, so go get a drink (wine or beer if you can) or shut the door to your office to pretend like you're working.  To the extent I "overshare" a little, it is only for purposes of truthful reporting and for my own ability to laugh at myself.

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.

For those who don't know about how Ironman works, after the swim, they have "strippers" who literally yank the wetsuit off of your body while you lay prone on the ground.  Then you get a bag of your pre-packed bike gear, go into the changing tent (women/men separate!), switch your clothes as a volunteer assists, and head out onto the bike.  After the bike, you get your pre-packed bag of running clothes, go back into the changing tent, and switch outfits again.  At the halfway point of both the bike and run, you have your "special needs" bag.  In it, you pack little extras like socks, a warm shirt, Advil, a yummy treat, sunblock, or whatever thing you think you could need.  It is a lot to think about, to make sure you have everything you could need.
the bags

bike bags being set up

changing tent

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
Once I got to my parents house, my dad gave me a medal of St. Christopher to pin to my outfit.  St. Christopher, if you don't know, is the patron saint of travelers.  He's the guy you want to keep you safe on a journey.  Given my bike crash all those months ago, I was happy to take Chris along with me.  He was pinned to my tri-top zipper all race day
St. Christopher, my main man

Marianne arrived, and we packed everything up.  She was wearing a very cool "Swim Bike Sherpa" shirt I got for her.  We looked pretty good, I thought.

We headed to Cambridge first so I could check in my bike.  Took about an hour and forty-five minutes to get there.  It was a gorgeous sunny day.  I racked my bike and walked around to take in the river and the swim start area.  I have done Eagleman 70.3 there two times, and the course and venue are basically the same.  It was comforting to know the lay of the land for the transition or bike area, and where the swim start and bike/run starts would be.
bike racked!

and we are a go!  all checked in!
Marianne and I had lunch at a place in town called The High Spot.  Her teacher friend (and triathlete) Hugh joined us -- this was going to be his 5th Ironman.  Then we walked around town for a little while and visited some of the shops.  We picked out a place for her to set up chairs for my family, so I could see them but also so they were close to food and amenities as needed.

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
Marianne was taking pictures of my experience to document the weekend.  Of course she was.  I was brought back to triage immediately and met the lovely nurse Marcia.  Within minutes of talking, me giving her my background info, we realized we were kindred spirits.  She doesn't like people either.  She was the nurse version of me; she added she was also the Jewish version of me.  Anyway, I told her about my race, and she said I might not be able to swim if the doctor cuts or lances me.  I told her that he wouldn't be cutting me that night, if that were the case.  I was already thinking I would put duct tape over my jaw if I had to... if duct tape held back the Martian atmosphere from Matt Damon in "The Martian," it would hold back any dangers in the river.  Nurse Marcia then told me about the flesh-eating bacteria that some of the watermen deal with on the river... ummmm, yeah.
checking in

The doctor came in and took a look.  He said it was a basic infection of the skin, cellulitis.  He asked if I had been under a lot of stress lately... uh yes, understatement!  Anyway, sometimes when the body is dealing with stress, our defenses are low against little things.  Hence the giant growth on my jaw.  He said he did not want to lance it, partially so I could swim, but also because it was too soon in the stage of infection.  He did get me an antibiotic, and I had to promise I would take it mid-day of race day (i.e. during the bike portion) somehow.  Then, as it turned out, he overhead me with the intake person providing my work address (Howard County) and that's where he's from... went to Glenelg High School, knew my friend Steve from college by name at least, and was vaguely aware of my friend Leigh by her last name.  It is a very very small world.
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

 And that was it.  I slept fairly well... I mean I woke up a lot but I would have done that anyway because I was in a strange bed.  And the pain in my jaw had let up, so I at least got some rest.

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.

Pre-Race Breakfast:
Orange Juice
2 mini bagels with peanut butter
1 banana
1 coffee

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.
getting ready!

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
The swim was a rolling start.  As someone described it, it is basically a sad parade of doom into the river.  The fastest people go first; volunteers held signs with approximate finish times so you just sort of got in line in that general area.  I had a secret goal of swimming the original 2.4 miles in under an hour, but realistically, I felt like I would be just over an hour.  So I got in line with the "1 hour to 1:10" people.  My left shoulder, since the injury in April, does not rotate as cleanly as it once did.  I have also noticed, during this my first bout of colder temperatures, that it also gets very tight and almost spasms when it is exposed to cold.  It takes me a while to loosen up in the pool, and with no warmup available pre-swim, I was just going to have to deal.
ready to roll!
 I remember standing on the asphalt, waiting for the parade to start.  My feet were sore from the pebbles and debris; they were freezing cold.  Then the announcer yelled "30 seconds!" and I just sort of snapped to attention and was ready to go.   I slipped in line to the far left, as I felt that was the best spot to not get clobbered once we entered the water.  And then we went.  They were playing the song "When I Ruled the World" by Coldplay. I managed to find myself in the start video too, but it is too confusing to explain which one is me, so I'll skip that.
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.

It was really beautiful.   The sun was rising.  The water, though cold, felt clean and crisp.  I tried very hard not to think of the flesh eating bacteria that may or may not have been leaching into my jaw.  And then just like that, I could see the sand on the bottom and it was time to get out.  I started to stand, stumbled and fell over, then got up and walked up the ramp.  Here's the video of me getting out; you can see me take the hand of a volunteer:

Split:  44:38 (3rd woman out in my age group, 12th woman overall... who knew?)

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

 Off I went to the changing tent.  I sat down, as a wonderful volunteer named Dale (yes, a girl) brought me my bag.  She began to empty it for me, but I needed to concentrate.  So I asked her if I could have a moment, and I was fine.  I changed into bike shorts, pulled my Swim Bike Mom Ambassador Team tri-top on (adorned with St. Christopher), and zipped up my SBM long sleeved bike jersey.  I loaded up my pockets with the Smuckers sammies, and put on my various talisman bracelets (beads from Jack, my SBMAT from Therese, my teal "We Fight" for Stef, and my own mantra bracelet that reads:  "one day you won't be able to do this; today is not that day" which also has a "Jx3" on it for James, Jack, and Julia).  Sunglasses and helmet on; socks and shoes on, hair in a pony tail, and that was it.  I remember needing to pee, but thinking stupidly, oh I'll be fine.  (Note to self:  when about to sit on a bike for 6 or 7 hours, taking a minute to pee won't cost you anything.  I should have peed.) I ran out to my bike and got on, settling in for 112 miles.  I never saw my sister; she somehow missed me getting out of the swim and out on the bike.

Transition One time:  9:43

The first few miles weave through town before getting out onto the main roads.  Lots of rights and lefts; lots to pay attention too. It is not the time to get up to speed or be down in the aero position.  At Mile 2, I see this bike veering towards me from my left side, and he's not paying attention and about to smash into me.  I start yelling "hey!  hey! hey!" and he startles and starts to correct himself.... he manages to clip my front tire and send me wobbling but able to stay upright.  I yelled out "Jesus Christmas!  He looked back and said "sorry."  I yelled back a nice expletive that I will not repeat as my parents read this.  I could not stop shaking for awhile.  So unnerving.

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.
looking grim
Split:  7:01:12 (now 195th female... passed by 180 or so women.  See what I mean?)

Transition Two time:  12:17

I have never been so happy to run in my whole life.  Here's the video of me coming out of transition... I even give a "woo!"

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

We walked through each water stop at each mile to have some water or Gatorade, and later the chicken broth.  The wind had picked up, and it was getting very very cold.  I couldn't eat at all.  In fact, other than a handful of potato chips, I ate nothing.  I had my Reese's Peanut Butter cups waiting for me in my "special needs" bag at Mile 17, but I didn't touch them.  I had 4 or 5 GU's in my fuel belt, but never ate one.  My jaw was throbbing.  My stomach was a mess.  Every time I stopped to use the port-a-potties, I told Tim he could keep going.  And every time he would tell me he'd walk and wait for me.  We totally got through this together.  I had gotten a warmer shirt at "special needs" and put my spare socks on my hands for gloves.  At my last port-a-potty stop around Mile 19, I was afraid I would not be able to stand back up, because my legs were seizing up.  It was dark in that gross port-a-potty, and the toilet paper was on the gross floor.  It was a terrible moment.  Tim promised that if I couldn't stand back up, he would burst in and pull me up, while not looking.  That made me laugh so hard, the image of that.

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:
And my sister-in-law Kathryn:

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

It wasn't until Mile 20 that I was getting annoyed by it.  In fact, when we passed the finish at that point, I could hear them starting to play Miley Cyrus's "Party in the USA."  I turned to Tim and said I was glad we weren't done yet because Miley Cyrcus would have caused me to stop and wait until they changed the song.  We shared expletives about our feelings on Miley Cyrus.
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!"


Run Split:  5:23:21

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"

OVERALL TIME:  13:31:11

I went to the changing tent with my bag of warm clothes.  I sat in the chair, afraid I wouldn't be able to get back up.  I slowly put on my warm clothes, chatting with the other women, congratulating them.  I offered to sell my bike to them, as I told them I was never riding it again.  Back outside, I got more hugs from my family and then said goodbye to my children. 
Uncle Frank & Aunt Betty, my godparents

mom & me

best parents ever
 My sister took the kiddos back to the hotel to put on their pajamas, then she drove them to my parents house for a sleepover.  James walked me to the food tent, got me a slice of pizza and a diet Pepsi, sat me in a chair with my phone, and went about the business of retrieving my bike and gear, and moving the car closer.  While I nibbled on pizza, I saw all my texts and FB posts; I got to talk to my BRF Tricia.  I couldn't stop shaking from cold.

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.