Race Recap: 2014 Ironman Lake Placid!!!!


Hello hello!!!  I'm a little afraid that this post is going to break the Internet.  It has a lot of pictures and a lot of words and a lot of exclamation points.  !!!!!  I can't help it:  I'm an Ironman, baby!  Last week, on Sunday, July 27, 2014, I finished Ironman Lake Placid in just over fourteen hours: 14:03:07.  My official time, however, was 13:14:03.  More on that in a bit, but suffice it to say, I am thrilled -- beyond thrilled -- with my Ironman race.  So thrilled, in fact, that I jumped and danced and leapt across the finish line while crying and laughing and generally basking in a state of unparalleled euphoria and joy.

My first goal for this race was to be an official Ironman, which meant crossing the finish line in 17 hours.  I was pretty sure I could do this, but having never done this distance before, I didn't want to get too confident or too complacent.  Fact is, I did not know how my body would handle the rigors of a 2.4 mile swim, with a 112 mile bike in the Adirondack mountains, followed by a 26.2 mile run (or, you know, a marathon) especially with my recently-injured foot (which, by the way, was 100% fine come race day - woo hoo!).  Realistically, based on my half-iron time at Quakerman in 2013 and my training over the past 8 months, I hoped and imagined I would finish around 14 hours.  My second goal was to be upbeat, happy, and soak in as much of the amazing energy of race day as I could.  I'm happy to report I met both goals ... and then some.

And it wasn't just me.  Amy and Bill had amazing days as well.  Bill finished in 12:09:07 (11:29:13 official time) and Amy finished in 13:52:59 (13:02:33 official time).  In fact, Amy and I did most of the race together -- who is surprised?  

But let's take a step back so I can get all Maria von Trapp on you and "let's start from the very beginning.  A very good place to start."

Before the Race

ThursdayAmy, Bill and I took the kids to Lake Placid on the Thursday before the race.  Is this the face of a future Ironman or what?

The drive took no time at all.  It was like we were in some bizarre time warp/worm hole or something and the hours flew by.  We all remarked how fast it seemed.  We were clearly filled with nervous energy and just wanted to get up to Lake Placid.  

As we got closer, we saw signs of Ironman -- literally!  There were road signs up warning motorists of the Ironman on Sunday.

Town was ready too!

We got to our house, checked in, unpacked an obscene amount of food and gear and then high-tailed it to Mirror Lake Drive to set up a tent for our 14 person support crew - our family and friends who were making the trek up to Placid to cheer us on at our Ironman.  We were surprised when we got to Mirror Lake Drive at the number of tents already set up!  But we snagged a spot next to a huge red tent, which was great because it was super easy to spot on the bike and run.  Once the tent was in place, we had workouts to do.  We headed to Mirror Lake and took turns with the kids and our workouts.  We also ran into our friend, Ryan, from camp at the lake, which was super cool (Ryan turned out to be my Ironman Patronus/Guardian Angel).  Amy and I had a swim and a run.  We swam a lap of the swim course, which took us around 40 minutes.  We swam super fast.  We looked super good.

I was excited. Clearly.  

Our run was nothing special - we just did about 40 minutes or so and ran on Mirror Lake Drive, which is the one part of the run course we had not run on before.  I was thrilled that my foot felt pretty good.

Friday:  On Friday we had an easy endurance ride.  We decided to do a ride we'd done a bunch: ride down through town on Route 73 (which is the beginning of the bike course), then ride on River Road (the run course) and up the back end of the bike course on the five famous climbs (Little Cherry, Big Cherry, and the Three Bears).  It was a good ride and felt good to be moving.  At the end of this ride, we ran into another friend from camp!  He had been having some Achilles issues, so it was really good to see him out there.
After the ride, we decided to stay in town to check in and attend the athlete briefing.  We ran into a ton of people from camp there, too!  It's amazing that in a field of 2,700 athletes we ran into so many people that we knew.  The briefing was fine, if a bit foreshadowing.  Mike Reilly, the voice of Ironman, gave the talk and of course the topic turned to weather.  He advised that if any portion of the race had to be shortened or canceled due to weather, the officials would make the decision swiftly.  And he advised if we saw lightning on the course, that we should find a fire station and take cover there.  I had no doubt there would be a rain storm at some point on the race.  Little did we know what the weather would actually do come race day.  Anyway, after the briefing, at the urging and insistence of Bill, I plowed my way over to Mike Reilly and sweetly introduced myself and begged him to say my name correctly when I crossed the finish line.  

I've had nightmares of crossing the line only to hear "Shayna" or "Shawna" or even "Shonna" instead of the "Shanna" (really: it's said like it's spelled: shh-anna like Anna).  He was a great sport, assuring me he would say it correctly.  He was also very charming and charismatic. I was starstruck and obviously had a lot to say.  And the woman behind me is obviously wondering when the heck I would be done.  

After the Mike Reilly chat, we went to the Olympic Center to sign in for the race and pick up our bags and timing chips.  This was a process that I completely underestimated!  It took a really, really long time.  We had to sign waivers, get weighed (note: I protest the weight ... those scales were not correct!), get wrist bands, get our gear bags and confirm certain information.  We rocked registration in our tri kits and bike shoes.  I am certain this intimidated the other competitors.  Rar. 

After all the craziness, we went back to the house, fed the kids and then took them to the Ironkids race.  This was a little running race for the kids and the three boys wanted to do it.  They ran a half mile and all did such a great job!   Here is Big finishing his race ... that's my boy!

After the race, we biked over to the house of our camp buddy, who happened to have a house right on Mirror Lake.  We met up with fellow camp friends and our coach for a bit of a pep talk and an easy swim.  This was a pretty good swim.  I could swim in Mirror Lake every day.  Love it.  

Saturday:  We had our last workouts: an easy brick and an easy swim.  We did the brick very early.  We just biked a little and then ran up and down our street for a mile.  The brick was insanely short: I think a 20 minute bike + 1 mile run.  Just enough to shake out the cobwebs and keep things loose.  After the brick, we got our gear bags ready.  This was stressful. Unlike a normal triathlon, for an Ironman you have to put your gear in bags separated by leg: bike bag, run bag, bike special needs and run special needs.  In the bike bag, you'd put your bike needs: helmet, shoes, gloves, etc.  Run: sneakers, visor, fresh socks.  And in the special need bags, which you could pick up half way through the bike and the run, things you might need on the bike and run (extra food, band-aids, etc.).  You have to drop these bags off the day before, along with your bike, so they have to be packed perfectly. Hello stress!

Ironman Village and the Oval were all set up for the race.  Gulp.

Thankfully, Amy and I had made a monster list the week before when we were not stressed, so we used that to pack our bags and then carefully went through the list together and held up the contents of the bags.  We took our bags and bikes down to the oval to drop everything off.  Gulp again.  

When we got down there, we hung our bags on the racks and noticed that a lot of people had some clever tricks for the bags: they had an upside down cup or a hair tie at the top to seal it.  We hadn't thought of that, but since we each threw a bunch of extra hair ties in the bags (in case there was a massive hair tie failure, apparently), we decided to secure the tops of our bags.  BEST DECISION EVER.  All caps.  It rained overnight (and a bunch the next day).  Had we not sealed the bags, the contents would have been drenched.  There was nothing quite as good as opening up my run bag and finding bone dry sneakers and socks.  

Once our gear and bikes were all checked in, there was nothing left to do.  We had a 10 minute swim, so we went to Mirror Lake.  I didn't bother with a wetsuit.  The water was perfectly comfortable but wow - I instantly realized how helpful a wetsuit is!  After the swim, we went to the house to chill.  Our coach was coming over to give our final race talk, and we needed to get out of the hustle and bustle of town.  The weather forecast, which I had been avoiding, looked about normal for July in the Adirondacks: partly sunny with a chance of thunderstorms.  We had a pretty good, easy night.  Bill's mom made pasta for us, which is our go-to meal.  It was a little hard to eat only because of nerves, but we did.  We packed up our food and bottles for the race while our friends and family chilled out.  I had the kids write their names on my wrist (these, sadly, were washed away on the swim, but I loved having them there)

I went to bed around 9:30 but didn't sleep very well at all.  What did calm me down was something that a friend from camp told me: just think of it as another long training day.  I somehow managed to sleep a little.  

Race Day!

I set my alarm for 3:30 am, but I didn't need it.  I woke up at 3:15 and just snoozed a bit.  I went downstairs, had my typical pre-race breakfast of oatmeal with chocolate chips & milk, an egg wrap, diluted Gatorade and a cup of coffee. It was nice to enjoy my coffee in a quiet house.  I also loved reading my Facebook feed while I had my morning coffee - so many friends had wished me well.  It was so great to know there were people cheering for me, even people who I am not super close with were posting these wonderful things.

We left the house at 4:30 and got body marked.

Then we headed to transition to put our food in our bikes, pump our tires and do one last check of our gear.  I chatted up my bike rack mates, who were all super nice and also chatty.  We ran into a few camp friends and Bri Tri!  That was really cool.  

Amy and I walked our bags to special needs areas (both were super close to our tent) and then would meet at the tent before heading to the lake for the swim start.  We put our wetsuits on in the tent area and some of our friends/family arrived.  My dad snapped this last picture before we headed over to the beach.  I wanted nothing to do with this picture and wanted everything to do with getting my butt in the water!  I have my fake rectangular smile ... you can tell that I just wanted to be done.  I have no poker face.

We went to the beach and I had just enough time to put my face in the water, roll around, and then get in line for the swim start.  I got in line with Amy at the 1:20-1:30 group and we said goodbye to Bill.  And then we waited.  Just before 6:20, someone sang the National Anthem.  I always get a little teary when I hear it, but at the end of the song, all of the Ironman athletes waiting to swim were singing along.  Tears.  The weather was looking pretty good.  I remarked to Amy that I could see peeks of sun!  LOL! The cannon for the male pros went off at 6:20.  Five minutes later, the cannon for the female pros went off.  And then ...

The Swim: 44:03 [more like 1:20-1:25]

BOOM!  It was 6:30 and the age groupers' cannon went off.  We knew that Bill would be right in front (and he was with an incredible 1:03 swim).  IMLP has adopted a rolling start for the swim where you seed yourself based on estimated swim time and enter the water that way.  Amy and I thought we could finish the swim in 1:20-1:30 so that's where we lined up.  It was super crowded.  The guy next to me was using some sort of lube for his wetsuit and he asked if I needed any.  I took some - why not?  And I gave some to Amy.  Only in line at a wetsuit swim is it OK to ask someone if she needs lube.  Ha. They were playing music for us, which helped a little.  I know "Call Me Maybe" was playing at one point and I danced a little and sang along.  I looked over to the banks of Mirror Lake and saw our support crew! I would have waved but there's no way they could see us.  Especially since the women (pink caps) were outnumbered by the men (green caps) almost 3 to 1 at this race.  I am still not sure who the white caps were.

It took what felt like forever for the line to move, but eventually we did.  We got to the starting line and went through the giant red TYR arch and off we went!  

I crossed the start mat, walked into the water and then started swimming.  I instantly started singing my go-to swim song that I sing at the beginning of every single swim I do, "Knowing Me Knowing You" by ABBA.  So there I was, a few yards into my Ironman swim, singing ABBA.  "No more ... carefree ... laughter ... Silence ... ever ... after ... Walking through an empty house ... Tears in my eyes ..."  Hey - thou shall not judge my choice of music.  It works.

I was having a great swim.  The swim is a rectangle with 7 numbered buoys on the way up, two turn buoys and another 7 numbered buoys on the way back to shore.

I was shocked at how open the lake felt.  Until ... buoy 4 when the fast swimmers were heading up on their second loop.  Wow.  There was a ton of body contact.  Lots of arms, legs, feet and elbows.  I was lucky that my goggles stayed on my face, but I definitely spent some time defensively swimming.  I had been pretty close to the underwater cable and thought if I moved off the cable to the left I might have an easier swim.  Not so much ... it really wasn't much better out there and I only succeeded in making my swim longer.  Once I got about half way up the orange buoys on the back end toward shore, I pushed my way back to the cable and hugged it a little.  I was thrilled to hear Mike Reilly's voice as I got closer to shore!  I was also shocked to get out of the water to run over the mat for loop 2 to find it was absolutely pouring buckets and the sky was really dark.

I ran back into the water and swam my second loop.  There was still a lot of body contact, but this time I was determined to stick to the cable. I hugged that cable the entire 7 yellow buoys on the way out.  At some points I went inside the buoy line a bit.  I made the turn and was headed to shore.  Buoy 1, Buoy 2, Buoy 3 ... and then I heard what sounded like thunder.  No.  It can't be.  I wouldn't let myself think it.  I noticed I was swimming into a bunch of people at this point. This wasn't completely unusual because I found that a bunch of people would just stop - mid swim - right where they were.  But I was hitting more people stopped in the water and started to worry.  I saw Buoy 4 and then a fellow swimmer in a green cap grabbed me by the shoulders and said, "WE HAVE TO GET OUT OF THE LAKE.  THERE IS LIGHTNING."  Um ... what?  Go where? Kayaks were directing us to the banks of the lake and I found the nearest point.  I saw lightning fork overhead while I was in the water.  I really can't explain how terrifying that was.  I started to worry about getting out safely and about my kids and then I worried because I knew our friends and family were worrying.  But I made it out (and so did everyone else).  I got to the bank and by some stroke of luck/divine intervention, my Ironman Patronus Ryan from camp was right there and pulled me out of the water.   I was so happy to see him!  All I could think was "where are Amy and Bill? Are they OK?" I stood there for a moment wondering what to do -- I was kind of deer in the headlights.  Ironman Patronus Ryan took charge and said Amy and Bill were fine, we should run to transition, there was no way they would let us back in the water, and the clock was ticking.  We had no idea what would happen with the swim (or even the race at this point as the thunder and lightning were very intense).  But we ran down Mirror Lake Drive in our bare feet and wetsuits to T1.   Ryan the Patronus and I unzipped one another's wetsuits and chatted on the run to T1.  He has no idea how much his presence and jovial nature helped calm my nerves and keep me centered. I did my first loop in 44 minutes.  My second loop was much faster, especially with the powerful draft created by 2700 swimmers.  But I did not lap my watch until I got to transition, so I have no idea how fast it was.   I estimate I was swimming fast like a boss though.   

In order to equal the field, Ironman cut everyone's second loop of the swim and T1, as everyone completed at least one loop of the swim.  So, the times are artificially low.  They were truly between a rock and a hard place, but I think the decision was a good one.  I was lucky: I could swim to the banks and run out.  People who were before the turn on the second loop were pulled onto boats and taken out of the water that way.  

T1:  no freaking idea of time

Holy moly cow.  T1 was a complete mess.  Instead of a steady trickle of athletes from the swim, T1 was deluged with a ton of people all at once.  It was still pouring, thundering and lightning at this part of the race.  A volunteer helped me get my wetsuit off, and I grabbed my bike gear bag and ran to the women's changing tent.  Um, wow.  Naked bodies everywhere.  I had read and heard about this but it was packed to the gills and completely chaotic.  I saw some women on the outside of the tent under an awning and ran over there.  I was still a bit disoriented.  I dried off my feet, put on my socks and bike shoes, and helmet.  I started eating a Lara bar because I was hungry from the swim and, let's face it, I am always hungry anyway.  I grabbed my glasses but it was too rainy to put them on, so I stuffed them down my tri top.  In the chaos, I completely forgot about my bike gloves! And with the rain, chamois cream and sunscreen weren't happening.  I ran out to get my bike and the volunteers grabbed it for me.  I went to the mounting area and noticed that everyone - athletes, volunteers, spectators - had the same look of "OMG" on their faces.  Lightning and thunder continued to crash overhead, but until I was told to stop, I was going to do this.  I clipped my right foot in and ...

Bike: 7:29:06

Just like that I was on my bike and starting the next leg of the race. As I meandered around the windy roads behind transition, I overheard a spectator say to her friend, "these people have to be terrified."  Word, sister.  Word.  The roads were wet, rain pounded us, it was cold and I knew that in just a few miles, I would be descending to Keene - a fast, 6 mile long descent that is a bit nerve-wracking on a good day.  In the rain? In the lightning? On completely drenched roads? This was uncharted territory.  I said a little prayer to my friend Maggie and pedaled forward.  I was cautious and tested my brakes, which were completely soaked.  Oy.  A few miles in, I heard Amy behind me.  I literally screamed, "OH MY GOD AMY! I am so so so happy to hear your voice!!"  Just knowing she was OK and that we found each other made my heart sing and soar like an eagle.  Amy and I biked together for a bit, but it was tough given the conditions.  Plus, neither of us wanted to get busted for drafting or blocking or some other penalty.  So we were close but not too close.  We got to the Keene descent and I lost her on the third part.  I pretty much rode my brakes as much as I could so I didn't lose control.  Even with those conditions, people were flying past me on the left.  Here are some terrified and soaking wet and extremely focused to the point of pained pictures of me on the bike (and that's Amy in the bright orange jacket):

I got down the descent in one piece and made the left turn onto Route 9N, which is a very flat section that I love.  The only issue was how cold it was: the rain was still pouring, the air was cold and I had a huge adrenaline crash from that descent.  I was freezing (and I am never, ever cold).  My teeth were chattering, my hands were shaking and I was shivering.  I started to worry about how I would manage this race if the rain stayed all day.  I forced myself to be present and to kick out those negative thoughts.  I would be fine.  Bird by bird, section by section, I would do this race.  My fellow competitors made it better. "Why didn't we do Cozumel??" one woman said and we laughed.  "This is our race.  They'll be talking about this Ironman race forever" said a dude who passed me.  "This isn't just Ironman, it's Survivorman" another said.  We all knew we were in this together.   About half way on Route 9N, I noticed peeks of sun through the clouds. The rain was letting up too.  I started down the 10 mile total out and back to Ausable Forks and the rain stopped! I was also distracted because I was looking for Amy heading toward me.  When I got to the turn around I had not seen her.  I thought maybe I missed her.  About a mile or two after that, I saw her coming toward me.  I couldn't figure out how she got behind me, but it turns out she stopped at an aid station after the descent in Keene to use the bathroom.  I was so glad to see her.  Shortly after seeing Amy, the weather broke and the sun came out.  YAY.  I think I cheered for sunshine.  I made the turn onto 86, which is a tough climb, but I was so happy to be warm and in the sun that I did not care.  

I started playing leap frog with a woman in an SOAS kit.  We had met briefly the morning of the race because we were on the same bike rack and we admired each other's SOAS kits.  I chatted with her, and she was super nice.  Her name was Sheryl from Maplewood NJ.  She couldn't believe that I was 39 and I wanted to kiss her right then and there.  We were all poppity pop pop chatty.  She asked me if I thought Ironman was harder than childbirth and I laughed really hard and said childbirth is way harder: you can always stop Ironman!  

I hit another out and back at Hasleton Road and saw Amy behind me again once I turned.  Yay.  I figured she would catch me at the Keene descent on the second loop.   Right after Hasleton Road, a bunch of spectators was near the next turn and were playing Michael Jackson's "Thriller."  Awesome.  I gave them a big smile and sang along.  After that, it was smooth sailing.  I hit my landmarks.  I was right on target with my power meter numbers, which made me happy.  The ride was becoming fun and I felt super strong.  

Once we were at Whiteface Mountain, we came upon a hilarious gang of guys ...

No words.  The next memorable part of the first loop was the three bears - the very end of the loop!  I got to Papa Bear (the last one and it's tall and steep) and saw the sight I had heard a lot of racers talk about: tons of spectators, many in costume, lined the climb and cheered us on Tour de France style.  It was awesome.  I was so happy to be there and just so happy in general.  I smiled and gave thumbs up and thanked everyone.  At one point, I heard someone say about me, "look at that smile! that's what it's about!" and of course I smiled harder and cried at the same time.  Once I got up Papa Bear, it was another couple of climbs on Northwoods and then literally all downhill to town.  

I wound through Mirror Lake Drive until I hit our tent and saw my friends and family.  Yay!! This was a huge boost!  Here is a much happier biker!

Bike Special Needs was just around the bend, so I stopped and got my bag filled with loop 2 food.  The volunteers here (and everywhere, frankly) were awesome.  Despite the weather, on loop 1, I managed to eat what I needed: a bonk breaker, a lara bar and an uncrustable; I drank 3/4 bottle of Perpetuem and a full bottle of Skratch labs.  I grabbed another bonk breaker, lara bar and uncrustable for loop 2 plus my favorite mid-ride fuel: a ham and cheese wrap.  Sounds gross, but with all the sticky sweet bars and PB&J, the savory ham and cheese tastes delish.  The volunteers were like "is that a wrap?" and I shoved it in my mouth and said, "hell yes and it is amazing" and they laughed.  If you happened to be in town between bike special needs and transition and saw a tiny bike rider with a ham and cheese  wrap hanging out of her mouth, that was me.  I felt like this:

I looked at my watch and had managed to bike loop 1 in about 3:45 -- right on target for a 7:30 bike ride, which was just where I wanted to be!  Loop 2 was great.  It was like a different race! I felt like a reset button had been pushed and I was just so happy to be just riding vs. trying to survive.  I stopped at the first aid station to get more water for my Perpetuem and took a Perform and diluted it with water.  This aid station was staffed with people in costumes - mostly women in "naughty cop" costumes.  It was impressive (Bill would probably say it was "spectacular" which I guess it was), and the naughty cop who helped me was very nice and very helpful.  Off I went ... and this time, I picked up speed on the Keene descents and was generally just enjoying the ride.   When I got to the flats at 9N, I realized my power meter wasn't working.  I briefly considered stopping and trying to recalculate it, but then thought, to what end?  It may work and it may not ... I could trust my body and my training to know how the flats and the climbs should feel.  I didn't want to waste any time or energy dealing with my power meter and I certainly knew that these sorts of mechanical and technical issues are as much a part of Ironman as the swim-bike-run.  So I sucked it up and just rode by feel.  Right before the Ausable Forks turn, Amy caught up with me.  "I've been chasing you for 50 miles!" she said.  I was so happy to see her!  We rode pretty much together for the remaining 20+ miles of the ride.  There was one point where a race official on the back of a motorcycle really slowed down and stared at me, and I was afraid I was about to get a penalty for drafting.  I didn't, but I think this official nailed my training camp friend Paul with a penalty earlier in the day.  Bummer. 

Another bummer? Oh the intense, but quick, pop-up thunder and lightning storm that hit right around Whiteface Mountain.  Wow.  My retinas are still burning from that lightning.  It was directly overhead and the brightest lightning I have ever seen in my life, and was followed immediately by the loudest thunderclap ever.  Amy and I both said very bad words - like the worst bad words ever (possible Ironman penalty!) and pressed on. The rain fell again and it was absolutely pouring.  After a few miles, it stopped but again we were drenched.  Thankfully, this was the last bad weather on the course: the rest of the day was beautiful.  We had thought that we would escape more rain because right before that freak lightning flash, we could see it had rained on the roads - there was this weird steam coming up from the wet roads and the sun was hot and to add to it, just around the bend we heard these jungle drums from the next aid station.  I don't think I'll ever forget how surreal it was to watch the handful of bikes in front of me in that steamy mist with those drums in the background heading into what totally felt like Jungle Book territory.  And, oddly enough, at that section right after the Hasleton Road out and back, the same crew from the first loop was playing "Thriller" again!  I danced on my bike yet again.

I made my way to the Cherries and the Bears, all the while feeling really good and strong, despite my watch telling me I was hitting about 7 watts on the climbs (um ... no).  I turned onto Northwoods and knew I was just 3 miles or so from being done with the bike!  And Ryan the Ironman Patronus appeared! Amy and I couldn't believe it!  So funny.  At the bottom of the final hill, one of the amazing spectators said, "one more hill and you're done!" and I wanted to kiss her.  We started descending and I shouted, "HULK SMASH BIKE!" because I really was done with my bike and that seemed like a totally normal thing to say.  We got to transition and dismounted.  I was struggling a bit getting my watch off the mount and the volunteer said, "take your time - it will come off easier and faster if you do."  And don't you know she was right.  They took my bike and at that point, I did not care if they destroyed it in a ball of fire.  Ultimately, my ride was fine - I was fortunate: no flats, no mechanical issues, no crashes.  Just loss of power.  And surprisingly, despite having no gloves and no chamois cream, I was feeling really good.  I almost evenly split the two loops in terms of time.  But now, the ride was over.  Yay for the run.

T2:  8:06

I grabbed my run gear bag and headed into the changing tent.  This was a totally different experience! It wasn't crowded at all.  I sat down and a volunteer found me.  She was The Greatest Volunteer Ever.  She opened my bag and asked what I needed. She opened things for me, put sunscreen on me and was just plain awesome.  I think I hugged her and told her that she was amazing.  My coach had suggested  that in T2, we use baby wipes to clean off our faces and mouthwash.  I did both of these things and wow - I was like a new person.  I also changed my socks, which was a great call.  Be this a lesson to future Ironmen: put extra socks in every one of your gear bags.  Anyway, Amy and I used the porta-potties, lapped our watches and then got on our way.  

Run:  4:52:51

We ran out of transition feeling amazing.  I didn't think it was possible, but we both looked at each other and said how great we felt.  My friends were right there too! What a surprise!  We saw them and it gave us a huge boost.  My friends were awesome.  Ironfriends!  They made hilarious signs and were full of energy, smiles and high-fives all day long.

Soon after seeing them, I turned to Amy and said, "We're going to do this!"  I knew it at that moment, less than one mile into the run that it would happen: I would be an Ironman.  My friend Kevin from camp told me that that moment would come at some point int he race, and it truly did.  I knew that I could walk the next 25.8 miles and still finish in under 17 hours.  It was a great feeling.  

Amy and I ran into our coach at the bottom of the IGA hill, less than a mile on the run.  We told him we felt great, and he ran with us for awhile, which was great.  Soon after that, we saw Bill!  We exchanged hugs and then some insane athlete barged in and told us to get out of her way.  Thankfully those athletes are the exception and not the rule on race day.  We made our way out of town, down the ski jump hill and onto River Road ... the quiet, pretty flat road that makes up the bulk of the run course.  
We were doing 4 minutes of running/1 minute of walking and felt really good.  I tried to eat a Gu, which is my go-to nutrition on a run, but that just wasn't working. Instead, I switched to the fresh orange slices and bananas on the course.  The run was hot and sunny, so at every aid station, I would get some Perform and water and drink diluted Perform.  I'd also get some ice and just dump it down my tri top.  Instant coolness.  Speaking of coolness, this picture, an official race picture, would have been a lot cooler had the photographer moved a little to the left ... the ski jumps were right over Amy's shoulder and would have been amazing in this photo.

On River Road, we knew that Bill's mom had placed signs for us.  And did she ever.  She had four signs on each side of the road.  They looked like this:

This set was on the way out:

And this set was on the return:

Amy and I cried.  Naturally.  It was a great shot in the arm at a point in the race that was otherwise challenging and really quiet.  Thank you Jane!

We got to the first turn-around at mile 6 or so and both felt really good.  We continued to run into friends: camp friends, Bill, Brian ("Bri Tri").   We walked up the ski jump hill into town and continued our 4/1 intervals.  Around mile 12 or so, my tummy started feeling a little bit off.  I wasn't sick, but I also wasn't feeling as great as I had been.  I knew I needed to keep eating in order to have a strong finish, but there just wasn't anymore room at the inn, so to speak and I knew only one thing (a visit to the bathroom) would make it better [sorry ... I am really good at oversharing].  We hit the turn around on Mirror Lake Drive and then saw our friends at the tent.  HUGE BOOST.  You can't fake these smiles.

We hit the half way point and kept on running.  We were still making good time, though I needed to walk a little bit more than before.  We saw Maria, my bloggie Ironman friend, at the aid station and that was awesome!  She saw me and said, "Shanna?? It's me! Maria!" and we gave a big hug.  I was so happy to see her.  I started grabbing some Coke at aid stations.  I sipped it and it really helped.  Running felt good, but it was hard to get myself to do it.  Amy was patient with me and I would say "OK, let's go" and we would run until she said stop. I know we ran more than 4 minute intervals, which was A-OK with me.  At one point on a walk break I said to Amy, "I won't say this again, but I have to say it.  If you are having a good run and need to keep going, I want you to do it. I am fine. I can walk this and finish."  And she got all Bud Kilmer from Varsity Blues/Mikey from Goonies on me and was like "Ok NO.  This is what we do.  I am staying here and this is fine and we can discuss again at mile 22."  But I knew that I should not bring it up again or face the wrath of Amy.  She did not grab me by the face for emphasis, but she may as well have.  

This part of the race, especially on River Road, was mentally tough. People were breaking down around us.  At one point, about a mile before the River Road turn around, some man was shuffling his feet and said, "it.just.hurts.so.much." Oh man.  I felt for the dude, but I could not really help him and I didn't want him to get inside my head.  I kept on moving.  We hit the turn around.  My stomach was still not right but I was able to run, so it was ok.  Amy and I got to the end of River Road and walked together up the hill by the ski jumps.  At the top, she was ready to go and I was not.  I told her to go ... I looked at my watch and knew I would be fine.  So thankfully she did.  I saw her run off and I walked a bit.  Just a word about Amy ... she completely and totally got me through that run.  While the first half was pretty good and the last few miles were too, the middle of that marathon from about mile 12-22 I struggled.  I don't know how I would have done it if she didn't take over, pace me and keep me going.  So thank you Amy.  Thank you for going Bud Kilmer on me on the run and for inspiring me to keep on going.

At the next aid station I found a porta-potty and, well, I did my thing and emerged from the porta-potty like this:

Woo hoo!!! I found my legs and my stomach was good so I resumed the run/walk.  Plus, I could see town.  I was getting so close.  3 miles to the finish.  Then 2.  When I hit town again, the crowds were incredible.  Everyone was shouting my name, cheering for me, smiling, running right up next to me.  I smiled and gave it right back.  I thanked people through some tears.  I turned the corner onto Main Street and a huge crowd was waiting and from far away I heard them yell "SHANNA!!!"  I had no idea who they were (or how they knew my name) but the guy said, "you don't know us but we are cheering for YOU!"  TEARS.  It inspired me to run harder.  

I turned onto Mirror Lake Drive and started looking for Amy who would be coming toward me to finish.  I looked for our support crew friends -- they were there at the tent and the moment I saw them, I started crying.  This was it.  The final mile.  I saw the mile 25 sign and knew I was almost there.  Then I saw Amy coming toward me.  I knew she would break 14 hours and finish in the 13s and I was so happy for her.  She was running so strong and I was thrilled to see her!  I made my way to the turn around - the very last one - and I was euphoric. I shouted, "I am so happy to be here!" and then "I LOVE EVERYONE HERE!" and everyone laughed and cheered.  The thing is, I was so happy to be there and I really did love everyone there. 

After the turn around, I just soaked it all in.  I knew I was minutes - moments - away from the finish and the moment I had worked toward for almost a year.  I saw a crowd of people at a house on Mirror Lake Drive having dinner and wine by candlelight in their yard watching the runners go by.  I saw Mirror Lake, where the buoys from the race had been completely removed, with the setting sun sparkling on the surface of the water.  I saw a dusky, inky sky overhead.  I saw the lights of the finish line.  I heared cheers and Mike Reilly saying people were Ironmen.  I could hear the din of the crowd grow louder and louder.  And then I came to Main Street and saw the sign: arrow left: second loop; arrow right: to the finish.  As soon as I saw that "to the finish" sign, I cried again and the tears didn't stop.  I saw the faces of people lined up along the finish chute and started giving them high fives and smiles.

I crossed over Main Street onto the Olympic Speed Skating oval and had the entire chute to myself. There was no one in front of me and no one behind me. I scanned the crowd and everyone was cheering for me, smiling.  I cried and laughed and just ran and ran and ran.  I rounded the bend and saw the finish line with the time clock.  Then I heard Beyonce's "All the Single Ladies" come on and I heard "Shanna O'Neal [pronounced correctly!] from Wayne Pennsylvania, first timer, YOU are an IRONMAN!"  I put my hands on my face and then over my head and then danced, leapt and jumped over that finish line!

The volunteer at the finish made sure I was ok, and I just wrapped my arms around him and said, "I LOVE YOU!" and I did.  I loved everyone.  I got my medal from someone (obviously a fellow Ironman) who said, "welcome to the club!", got wrapped in the fun foil stuff and then saw Amy and Bill.

Tears of joy.  We all hugged and cried (maybe not Bill ... but I cried and I think Amy cried) and took a moment.  And then there was Sprite! They had a barrel filled with sodas and there was Sprite!  We made our way to the fence and our family was waiting for us.  I was so happy to see my kids and my parents and my friends.  

I have never felt that way before.  Just pure, sheer joy.  Accomplishment.  Giddiness.  Despite starting the race in a scary storm and horrible rain, I spent the race with a smile on my face and returning all the amazing energy that the volunteers, spectators and the course itself gave to me.  I wish I could bottle the feeling during the entire race, but especially those last few yards in the finish chute.

The race was everything I dreamed it would be (and more) and was everything I trained for it to be (and more).  As I am sure was evident to anyone reading this blog, I took my training seriously and did everything I was scheduled to do (except when illness and injury got in the way).  The training set up a wonderful race experience that was the culmination and celebration of hours and miles of hard work and sacrifice.

I have more thoughts about the race to come in a post very soon, but suffice it to say, I had the time of my life.  I mentioned in my last post before the race that the journey was as important as the destination.  And that is true.  The training that led me to race day was definitely huge.  But the destination was pretty damn sweet.  One of my friends on Facebook summed it up so well: "How amazing! Something no one can ever take away from you!! How proud you should be!!!"  How proud I am.  

See you swoon,


  1. This makes me weep, Shanna. I'm so incredibly happy for you. What an incredible experience and it will always be a perfect memory bubble of when I saw you on the run! You looked so happy, so positive - exactly as it should be.

    I enjoyed reading every word of this and reliving your day through it. You battled tough conditions and earned your title!

    Now get on the internet and sign up for the next one ;)

  2. What a beautiful recap of a beautiful day! Your strength of body is inspiring, but it is your mental toughness that is truly amazing. You’ve made this entire process a celebration of family and friends; life and love. Brava!

  3. OMG, Shanna. I'm in full-on ugly cry at work. Thank you for the amazing recap. I'm so so so so happy for you that you had the amazing incredible JOYFUL experience that you worked so very hard to have. I'm glad you felt so loved and supported the whole way. Because you are. Loads of love to you.

  4. Woohooo! You did it girl!! What a great report and I think one of THE BEST finish line photos I have ever seen! You totally rocked this season and this race. Thanks for sharing it and it was so much fun following along. It almost felt like I was doing it again for the first time. I think I may have gotten a little "misty" reading this too. :)
    My only complaint...I told that guy in the Borat thong suit, when I passed him on the second loop, that I was so glad I would never have to see him again. Ugh! Guess not. How the heck did you get that picture?? LOL!!

  5. You made me cry like 18 times here. You are so amazing, I am so happy for you! If I were you I'd wear that damn medal every day! I love you!

  6. You are amazing! Your pictures are full of happiness! You trained so hard and deserve every joyful bit! Thank you for sharing your wonderful story!!

  7. Shanna - thanks for the good cry!!! I am so proud of you, and all that you have accomplished. Knowing Bill and Amy, and how wonderful they are, made me enjoy the story even more!! You have inspired me to CONSIDER trying to run - just a bit!!! God bless you!

  8. I just stumbled on your blog on accident after seeing a friends reply to my post on the IMLP2021 FB webpage referencing "the cherries" on the bike course. Like you, I also completed the race in 2014 (and 2016, but as they say there's nothing like your first). Anyhoo I hadn't recalled ever hearing any of the hills named "cherries" before. The bears, for sure. I then googled IMLP cherries and thankfully it led me to your blog. Reading your entertaining camp and race recaps was like reliving that wonderful year once again. The joy, the heartache, the raw emotion, the sense of accomplishment, the friendships, the awesomeness of the course, the WEATHER! I can relate to and can appreciate every word you wrote because I lived it too....right down to talking Mike Reilly's ear off after the race preview talk on the loop. I was actually the first one to go over to bother him for a bucket list pic and chat. Prince of a man. Thanks so much for putting down your thoughts in such an inspiring and hilarious manner. It has brought back such fond memories. I'm actually thinking of a redo in 2022 !! Maybe I'll see you there ?!!!