This race report is long overdue. 6 weeks overdue to be exact. And with the midnight hour looming before me, I feel that this is the last piece of 2014 that needs to fall into place.
I’m not really sure how to put into words one of the best experiences of my entire life, but bear with me while I try.
On a Wednesday morning in November, after dropping my boys at school, Ally, Brian, Dan and I loaded into the Santa Fe and set out for warmer weather. However, it was a solid 24 hours before we actually saw any sign of that. When we stopped for dinner at Cracker Barrel just outside of Amarillo, it was snowing. When we stopped near Albuquerque, I was wrapped in a blanket to fill up the gas tank since the temperature hovered in single digits. I took the drive in the wee hours and then Dan took over, putting the pedal to the medal, and we rolled into the Grand Canyon just in time to see the sunrise. We watched elk sparing and took in the glorious expanse of God’s creation, while Ally and I huddled together for warmth. Watching that with my little girl was enough to make the trip worth it, but there was more to come.
We headed back to the car for the last few hours south toward Tempe. Finally the temperature started to rise. As we rolled into town we ditched our hoodies and exchanged shoes for flip flops. We unloaded bikes and gear and bags into the townhouse we shared with several other members of my crew. Adrienne arrived shortly after we did and because we are triathletes, we set our priorities straight and made our first stop a trip to the grocery store. Then we made our way to Ironman Village in the heart of downtown Tempe for our athlete meeting and check in. It started getting real.
But with the race a couple days away, and with so many things to do before the big day, the nerves were held at bay. The next couple days were filled with eating lunch outside, practice workouts, putting gear bags together and dropping things off. I got to meet the newest member of my family, Quincy Allen Jacobs, my brother and sister in law’s little boy who was born earlier this year. I had lunch with my friend Casey from high school. The anticipation and excitement mounted. I went to bed Saturday night, and somehow, I slept.
At 4-something it was time to get moving. The house was quiet. Until Dan, in an attempt to tiptoe in the dark, fell down the stairs on his way to his volunteer shift, making sure everyone was up and breaking 4 toes in the process.
Adrienne and I were fairly untalkative that morning as we ate our breakfast and gathered our water bottles. Brian dropped us off near the transition area, with our special needs bags, and we stuck together. We delivered our gear and stood in line for the port-a-potties. Ron came by and said hello. He was nervous. I said I was avoiding the word “nervous”, focusing more on “anxious”. I knew I would be ok once things got underway. Just enjoy the day. While we waited, I turned to my friend and co-rookie, Adrienne and said, “I’m glad we’re doing this together”. I couldn’t imagine being in all that chaos by myself. Finally we began the process of putting on wetsuits. It was still dark out. It was low 60’s, but pure adrenaline kept us from noticing the cool air as we removed sweatpants and hoodies. During wetsuit robing I caught sight of Brian up on the hill and blew him a kiss. Then I waved as Adrienne and I left our bikes and made our way to line up for getting in the water. It felt surreal.
We found Melissa and Tracy near the Swim Bike Run crowd and they filtered into the line with us. We put on swim caps and goggles. The thoughts of “I don’t want to do this” and “I don’t want to get in that water” started to run on repeat in my head. And then I looked up and saw a large neon sign with my name on it. I’m pretty sure I started tearing up at the sight of it. Slowly the line edged forward and then I waved catching my brother’s eye. I don’t know how he recognized me among all of those other athletes in wetsuits and pink or green swim caps, but he did. When we got close enough, I stole a quick hug from my mom and AJ, and then it was go time. I was on the platform, I was carefully making my way down the stairs to the water, there were people everywhere, no time to think, can’t stop now, just jump. The cold water was a shock but given the number of people who were about to jump on top of me, I got out of the way as quick as I could.
Adrienne and I kept sight of each other as we swam the quarter mile up to the start line. We didn’t want to tread water for too long, but we also didn’t want to be sprinting for the start wasting any of our 2 hours and 20 minutes that was allowed for the 2.4 mile swim.
As we bobbed in the water with the sun starting to come up, Adrienne said a quick prayer for us. About a minute later we heard the cannon go off and we were on our way. It wasn’t swimming so much as it was water boxing. There were bodies everywhere, all fighting their way toward one buoy after another. I knew almost immediately it was going to be a challenging swim, not because of all the people so much as my goggles. They were fine the previous day at the practice swim, but now they were leaking fast and furious. I kept stopping to readjust. Not what you want to do in the midst of a bunch of people seemingly trying to drown you. About 100 meters in, I suddenly felt a sharp pain right to my face. I don’t know if it was an elbow or a foot, but I got knocked hard. I popped my face up out of the water, disoriented. My nose was bleeding and my lip was huge. I wondered for a second what I should do. I looked around for a volunteer in a kayak, there were none anywhere close to me. I decided there wasn’t much I could do but just keep swimming. So I did. I was lamenting the fact that I would have a huge, swollen lip in all of my pictures of the day. But as I swam, I realized that the cold water was just as useful as icing my lip. The swelling was going down. I kept swimming. And kept emptying leaky goggles. And throwing elbows to get other swimmers off me.
At one point when it seemed like someone was trying to pull my wetsuit off me, I wanted to scream, “Get off me!” But I couldn’t scream with my face in the water and I didn’t want to waste time. So, I kept swimming.
The sun was getting higher. Now I was dealing with leaky goggles and the glare of the sun. I wanted to get this part over with. As I reached the turn around point and started back toward the stairs, I stole a quick peak at my watch. I had swam 1.2 miles in about 46 minutes. For me, that was a record. And I was convinced that I would get through the swim before the cut off.
Just as my confidence started to rise, so did the wind. And the waves. I wasn’t sure what was going on but it seemed like boats were racing past us creating a giant wake. Nope, it was just the head wind that we had to contend with. But I kept swimming. I started wondering if I was making any progress at all. Just get to the next buoy. And the next one. And the next one.
Finally we went back under the bridge and then I made the turn for the stairs. My body did not want to swim anymore. One last final push and then I carefully eased my wobbly body up onto the steps and out of the water. My legs were shaky, I was dizzy, but again I looked at my watch. 1:40something…42? 46? 48? I don’t remember. But I know it took me almost an hour to do the second half of the swim. Whatever, it didn’t matter, because I did it! I was through the first part, my hardest part, of an Ironman. And I made it with time to spare. I could do this.
I sat down and a wetsuit stripper struggled to help me remove my buoyancy device. As he handed it to me and sent me on my way, someone else wrapped a mylar blanket around my shoulders. The low 60’s felt even colder now that I was wet. I saw Brian, but I can’t for the life of me remember what I said in that exchange. I think I smiled…? But my brain was frozen, or I was in overdrive, or both. I could barely feel my feet as I made the long trek into the transition area, grabbed my bag and headed into the women’s change tent. I tried to remove my swimsuit and get geared up for the bike. The volunteers were amazing. Someone helped put my sports bra and cycling shorts on me, someone else poured water on my feet to get the grass off before I put on my socks and cycling shoes. Someone sprayed me with sunscreen as I shoved Huma gels into the pockets of my bike jersey; the one Sally gave me so I could represent Fleet Feet and Swim Bike Run. I fastened my helmet, put on my new rimless Tifosi sunglasses and exited the tent into a sea of bikes. I was surprised at how many bikes were still on the racks, I fully expected mine to be the last one there. I yelled out my number and someone brought my bike to me as I clomped along toward the inflatable arch marked “Bike Out”.
I mounted my bike and began a long day of covering 112 miles in the desert. I remembered Chip’s words of advice that no matter what anyone told me, the Arizona course is not flat. He was correct. And with 30 mile per hour headwinds that day, the hills felt even worse. The course was 3 times out to the turn around and back.
I tried to remember where Ken said he would be at one of the bike aid stations. I scanned the face of every volunteer I saw, I never saw him. But it helped to keep looking for him. The first time out to the turn around was tough. I kept thinking that I had to be close, nope. And this wind will surely settle down, nope. And this has to be the toughest part of the hill, nope. At one point I felt like I was going to fall over on the bike because I was going so slow into the wind up that hill. This cannot really be happening. And I don’t really have to do this again. Twice!
I was so happy to make it to the turn around and head back down. I stopped for a couple minutes to hit the port-a-potties and give my body a short break from the bike. I was only about 17 miles in and it was brutal so far. I got back on the bike and glided down the hill with the wind at my back. But I thought about what Chip said, the course isn’t flat, keep using your legs on the way back down. So I did.
It was helpful to know where Renee, Allison, Brian, Greg and the other SBR folk would be. It was good to see my little cheering section before heading back out for round 2 on the bike. My motto on that loop became “Embrace the suck”. That second loop was rough, knowing that I had to go conquer it again and I still wasn’t done. The wind got worse, the hill felt steeper, the pain increased. “Just keep going, just keep going, just keep going” over and over and over in my head. I knew I wouldn’t quit. I never doubted that I would get through it. But wow, when it’s that hard and you just wish the hard would stop. I kept scanning faces. No Ken. I scanned for other cyclists. Adrienne was easy to spot with the bright pink tape on her knees. Passing, getting passed, pedaling for dear life, only going 10 miles per hour, ugh. Finally, the turn around, again. Again I made a quick pit stop. I ate a handful of pretzels. I sprayed on more sunscreen. I shoved some Vaseline down my pants. Yes, in that order. I apologized to anyone who had to witness that. And then I got back on the bike. Away I went down the hill. Remember what Chip said, keep pedaling. I stopped to get my Chapstick out of my special needs bag. It was the best thing ever in my life. The sun and wind and sand had done a number on my face. I got back on the bike and continued flying down the hill. I watched a girl hit a mile marker sign and take a massive wipeout. I had to swerve wide to avoid the debris that flew off her bike. I knew there was a policeman who was there to help her, so I kept going. But I immediately said a prayer for all my friends on the course. Lord, keep them safe…
Again back by the SBR gang and back up the hill one more time. Let’s get this done. On the third loop, while my motto was still “Embrace the suck”, I found it helped me to encourage others. I yelled “Good job, Girl” or “Keep it up” or whatever I could think of to anyone I passed. At one point I needed to hear music so bad that I actually started singing to myself. I reminded myself that once I got to that turn around, the hard part was done. It seemed so close, but so far away. I stopped to get something out of the little zipper part of my bento box. As a volunteer helped steady me and my bike, I heard a familiar voice. I looked over to the port-a-potty line and saw Judy. “Judy!!!” I yelled. “Who is that?” she asked squinting in my direction. “It’s Lindsey!” “Oh my gosh, Lindsey!” The cool part about this is that Judy and I met in 2011 at the Dallas Whiterock Marathon. We started talking on the shuttle back from the expo and we were instant friends. She said to me that day, “Someday you’ll do an Ironman.” And my response was “No Way!” How appropriate to run into her in the middle of 140.6.
I jumped back on my bike and fought the last of that hill and wind. I was so happy when it came into view. Again, confirmation that I was going to do this.
And on the way back down, the timing question came back into play. The cyclists were fewer and farther between. And then I saw it. The dreaded course sweeper was going up the hill. The truck that closes down the course. What?! Was I really going that slow? Was it that close to me? Probably not, but at that point I was too tired to do the math. I pedaled my heart out down that hill. Just get to the transition and start the run and you’ll be fine. I said a prayer that Judy would make it. She was at Ironman Arizona two years ago and had a DNF. I didn’t want that to happen for her this time. It couldn’t. Could it?
I hit the 100 mile mark. 12 miles to go. And then a marathon. Keep pedaling. I ticked off the miles one at a time. I thought of Teri. I wouldn’t even be here doing this if not for her inspiration and encouragement. Almost there. And then I came into the corral. I heard a loud, “HEY!” and saw my brother standing taller than the rest of the crowd. “HEY!” I yelled back. It was a typical sibling greeting. He didn’t need to say anything else. And I didn’t have the ability to come up with any other words.
As I dismounted my bike and handed it off to a volunteer, Ken was waiting for me. He hugged me and I nervously asked how I was doing on time. I was somewhat delusional thinking they would tell me I was too late to start the run. He said I was fine and told me I was doing awesome. I asked a volunteer if I could take my cycling shoes off, she said yes. I couldn’t have been happier. I wanted to throw them in the lake. I said, “If I never put these on again, I’ll be ok with that.” (I still haven’t put them on again.)
I grabbed my run gear bag and went back into the tent. I changed into running clothes, shoved Gu into my pockets and laced up my shoes. I have never been so happy to put on a pair of Mizuno Riders. I went through the “Run Out” arch and I was on the run course. I went past the special needs bags, I didn’t need anything yet. But then I worried if I would still have access to it on the next loop. I was running, a nice easy pace, but I was running. And I was amazed at how many people I passed. There were so many people walking. They were also the ones saying they would rather swim twice than run at all. Ummm, no, thanks. I felt pretty happy about getting to finish with my favorite. The sun was going down and the temperature was perfect. I had been going for 10 hours. The bike had taken slightly longer than I planned, and had taken more out of me than I expected, but I was still doing fine. I had almost 7 hours to get this done.
I stopped at aid stations and made my selections carefully based on Ray’s advice that real food in a washing machine is never a good idea. Ray did Ironman Wisconsin just a couple months before and his advice was invaluable. I ate my Gu Chomps and chased them with water. And I ran.
Near the transition area the crowd was huge. I heard yelling and looked up on the bridge to see my family with all their signs and loudness. Yes, I come by it honestly. I saw Allison and said, “I am so happy to be running!!!” I thought I was hilarious since she hates running. With my name on my race bib, random strangers kept yelling “Go Lindsey” and I smiled. I beamed. I was having the time of my life. It hurt, but it was awesome.
As I approached the bridge to the other side of the lake, I scratched my face and I felt gritty. I needed salt and I needed it now. I knew that was the thing I hadn’t done as well as I should have on the bike, but I kept going. A guy gave me a tube of Baseline electrolyte salt. And I kept running.
I passed the aid station where I had volunteered last year. And I kept going. Ken found me and started running with me. We aren’t allowed to have “pacers”, but since Ken was a course volunteer he was allowed to “encourage the athletes”. He kept telling me how great I was doing, I felt good. And then I saw 2 braids flapping up ahead of me. And pink compression socks. “Oh no, I hope that’s not who I think it is,” I said as I saw Ryan’s face taking a picture of Lindsey. Linds was on her second loop of the run, to my first, but I was hoping she would be done already. She was struggling. I hugged her. She said she didn’t feel good. We walked together for a bit. She asked how I was doing. I said I was feeling good and I was so happy. Linds looked at me and told me how proud she was of me. And that moment right there, was my best moment in 2014. Lindsey saw me the day I filed for divorce in 2011, she knew how terrified I was of divorce, of being a single parent, of swimming and she has watched me kick all of those fears in the face. Lindsey was the one who planted the seed for me to be there. Having a moment with Lindsey during that race was exactly what I needed to be reminded of how far I’ve come. We started running, just the 2 Lindseys out for a run, doing what we do. After a mile or so, I stopped to take a gel and I told her to keep going. And that was the last I saw of her. I slowed down, she sped up, or whatever, but we’d had our moment.
I found Ken again, he helped me through the dark part of the course. Literally and figuratively. And then I went back around to the other side. I could hear the finish line. I could hear Mike Reilly announcing that whoever had just crossed was an Ironman, but I made the turn and went back out for another loop. I saw my mom, who tried to tell me that I already was, but I told her not yet, don’t jinx it! I ran through the crowd of strangers, I saw some of my people. I stopped at my special needs bag to get my arm warmers and some pain meds. I yelled my number so the volunteers could locate my bag. And then Jess yelled my name. She tackled me in a hug. A needed hug. I was still happy, but I was tired. I kept saying I felt good, which was true. Sort of.
And then I kept running. I was annoyed with the people who had posted that a head lamp wasn’t a necessary item. Maybe if I had finished before dark. Ugh.
I ran back through the crowd, one last time until I got to the finish. Brian jumped in and ran with me for a minute. I noticed he had bought a sweatshirt. The cool evening air had gotten to him. He told me my bike and gear were already back at the townhouse. That was the best thing he could have told me. It was total relief that when this was over, I didn’t have to worry about any of it. He asked how I was feeling. I said, “I’m telling myself I feel ok. I’ll tell you later how I really feel.” He sent me on my way with just a half marathon to go. I could do this. Back out to the bridge, and over it, and past my volunteer station from last year.
I scanned faces of runners for people I knew. I saw Melissa. Barb. Julie. I walked with some random guys for a bit. I was tired. I put my hands on my waist…Ouch! I hurt. Everything hurt. There wasn’t a single part of me that wasn’t feeling the pain of every step.
I got to the very dark part of the course. Ken was waiting. He used his iphone to light the way for me. We had to get up the only real hill on the course. We walked. And then we ran. He sent me into the aid station and said he would see me at the finish. Only a 5k to go…
That was the slowest, most difficult 5k of my entire existence. Every step was painful. My brain hurt from convincing my body to keep going. But if I walked my heart hurt because I was so close that I just wanted to be there.
With just over a mile to go, there were so many people walking on the course, wrapped in mylar blankets, shivering, just trying to make it to the end. I made a decision then, no more walking. It didn’t matter how slow I ran, jogged, slogged (Teri’s word for slow jog), I was not going to be the person who walked until they saw the finish. So I ran that last mile. And I got closer, my smile got bigger. Everyone who saw me said, “Wow, look at that smile!” Which just made me smile more. Even in the pain, I smiled. And I ran.
And finally, I made the turn, I could see the chute. Elaine called out to me, and gave me a high five. I couldn’t have smiled bigger if I wanted to. I entered the chute. I saw that very same sign with my name on it that I had seen 15 hours earlier. I saw my family. I high-fived them and smacked my sign. I was steps from the finish line. And then I was there. I passed under it. As I heard those famous words, “Lindsey Jacobs, you are an Ironman”, I blew a kiss to my dad. 15 hours and 1 minute. I did it. We did it.
Oh, you might be wondering what happened to Judy. She suffered from extreme back spasms during the run, so she was sideways when she crossed the finish line but she did finish Ironman Arizona 2014. She was the last official finisher of the day with a time of 16:59 and change. She was helped across the finish line by winner Meredith Kessler and announcer Mike Reilly. I am so proud of my friend.
I am so proud of all my friends that were there on the course with me. Adrienne, Kelly, Ron, Barb, Karen, Tracy, Melissa, Holly, Marc, all finished their first Ironman. (I hope I didn’t forget anyone) Swim Bike Run of St. Louis Tri Club had a great showing of veteran triathletes too…Sharon, Julie, Brigitte, Doug, Tara. Ken is signed up to do his first Ironman in Tempe next November. Lindsey didn’t meet her goal of qualifying for Kona, but she did have a PR and then she was taken to the hospital for dehydration. There is no doubt in my mind that she’ll get to Kona.
Since I have been home from Arizona, I have been basking in the glow of being an Ironman. I haven’t been working out much. My body and my brain both need a break. Immediately upon finishing, I went hands to knees, and Allison, who was volunteering as a “catcher” at the finish through her arms around me in a hug. In shock, I said, “I did it.” It’s still a little surreal.
A week after the race, as I was driving to work, I remembered the feeling of coming down the finisher’s chute and I started to cry. It was amazing. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life. It hurt, but it was so awesome. And the best part…My daughter was there at the finish line. If I do nothing else in my life, I have taught my little girl to believe that anything is possible.
For the first time in my life, I’m not waiting for the “what’s next?” I’m just living each day. Some days I run, some days I don’t. I don’t feel a need to sign up for anything. I don’t feel a need to prove anything to anyone. I feel like I have finally arrived.
I learned the most important lessons of my life on November 16, 2014…No matter what happens, just keep going. Learn to embrace the suck. And whatever you do, keep smiling all the way to the finish.
(This post is dedicated to John Hibbard, a beloved and quirky member of the Hot Mess, who was taken from us much too soon on December 15. Wolfpack, you learned all of those lessons and you lived them well. You were one in a million. Thanks for the memories.)