I rolled into the Bike In area and was able to dismount from my bike without falling. I looked at this as a good sign. The very nice volunteers were there in a flash to take my bike for me. I had my wits about me enough to remember my pill bottle before they whisked it away. I knew I’d need those salt tabs!
A volunteer was ready with my transition bag and I headed to the women’s changing tent, contemplating what was ahead of me. Who am I kidding? I had been contemplating this for all of the last year: running a marathon. I had never run a marathon before. There had never been a desire to and I can honestly say that my sentiments had not changed, even as I was staring it in the face. It was 3 PM. I’d been racing for almost 8 hours already and still had the hardest part to finish.
A very nice volunteer named Heidi was helping me. She got me a cold water. I had lost my Chap-Stik somewhere on Richter Pass and really wanted something to soothe my chapped lips. She brought some Vaseline. As she helped change my shoes, just like a mother does, she said I was doing great. “You are killing this! There haven’t been very many women through here yet!” I looked right at her and started to well up, admitting I was afraid of how bad the marathon would hurt. She said, “You are doing this. You are going to be an Ironman!”
I believed her. I knew I would finish, and probably ahead of my expected time of 14 hours — unless the wheels totally came off during the run. It has happened before. I tend to fall apart on the run. I stood up and bent over into a downward-facing dog pose, stretching out my hamstrings and back. I did a ~30-second pigeon pose on both sides to stretch my glutes and hips. I’d been seeing an ART specialist to help the pain and fatigue I was having and I knew this run would put that work to the test. I took off my extra pair of cycling shorts. I donned my visor and grabbed my handheld water bottle. Heidi hugged me and I exited the tent. I stopped at the bathrooms and made my way out of the transition area onto Lakeshore Drive. Here we go!
Official T2 time = 8:00
Greg’s T2 time = 3:08
Kidder’s T2 time = 7:03
26.2 26.6 MILE RUN
The run course travels on Main Street toward Skaha Lake. The streets were lined with spectators and signs; the sounds of cheering and cow bells filled the air. There’s so much excitement for these first 2.5 miles that you kind of forget you’re running. This is a good thing. The course winds through city streets and back to Lakeshore Drive to add distance, and as a precursor to what is to come at the finish line. It feels like you’re going out of your way and you are.
The mind games begin.
From there, the course is an out-and-back along the lake. Once you get out of this section of town, there are several blocks where it’s pretty quiet. My mind seduced my body into walking “just for 30 seconds” to bring my heart rate down. Walking felt great. I started running again after 30 seconds, but I was like a junkie waiting for the next hit. I couldn’t stop thinking about the next aid station, where I had already planned to walk. I made it there and blissfully squeezed ice cold sponges over my head and wiped my face. I drank a cup of water and convinced myself to start running again, though I already knew I wouldn’t make it a full mile before giving in to walk.
I saw a sign up ahead that was very clever, and I smiled thinking of how it described me perfectly. And then I realized it was my cheering squad and they had made the sign for me! Kirsten was a good sport and ran with me for a few yards, saying I looked great. There was a lot of energy at that corner and it helped to propel me forward.
There were aid stations at every mile and I walked through them; I tried to keep walking to a minimum (30 seconds or less) in between the aid stations. Around Mile 5, I began to have the sensation of needing to pee every time I was running. If the bathroom at an aid station was open, I went in to go to the bathroom. Nothing would come out. I’d start running again and the sensation would come back. Dehydration.
I was taking salt pills every 3-4 miles, I think. I didn’t have a strict plan. I was eating watermelon at the aid stations. I had a few glasses of Coke and salty chicken broth, just trying to stay hydrated. I even had a cookie at one aid station. It was probably a horrible cookie on any other day, but right then it tasted like the best cookie I’d ever eaten.
Running by Skaha Lake, the crowds dwindle a bit. The scenery is gorgeous, but it’s when those mind games start to really fuck with you. As you can see in this picture below, Greg (and every muscle in his body) is on the threshold of his pain cave.
When I was running, I’d look at my Garmin and see that I was running at an 8:30-8:45 pace. In this situation, that pace just isn’t sustainable. So then I’d have to walk more often. I would give anything to be able to drone out a 10-minute-mile and call it good. I was contemplating this during a walk break as my biking buddy Tory passed me. I acknowledged him and we ran together a bit, discussing the allure of the 10-minute pace. He was rocking it. I was failing. As I shamefully began walking again, Kidder caught me! I ran with him and we chatted awhile, commiserating and questioning our sanity for embarking on this in the first place. I just wanted to be done.
That was Mile 9. Remember Wildflower and me saying, “I want to die” at Mile 12? Well, I was pretty much reliving that scenario now and I still had 17 MILES TO GO.
All the time I’d been running, I was looking for Greg on his return trip. It was here that I saw him and yelled. We met each other on the center divider of the highway and hugged. He was coming into the home stretch! He looked good, though said he was really losing steam now. I could relate…
I don’t really remember getting to the turnaround, other than I’m pretty sure there was a big hill somewhere in there that everyone was walking. Our Special Needs bags were at the halfway mark and I used it as an excuse to walk even more. So pathetic. In my Special Needs bag, I’d packed a lightweight long sleeve top, an extra pair of socks, and a Ziplock full of more salt pills, pain meds, and Band-Aids. I tied the shirt around my waist, refilled my pill bottle, and discarded the rest.
The turnaround point is a mental milestone and I tried to use that to my advantage. I caught up to a guy I saw on the way out and started chatting with him. Jason. Jason is from Kansas City, so we had even more in common than just the craziness of completing our first Ironman. We were working together on our run/walk breaks to keep each other honest in running longer than we were walking. We’d go through several minutes of silence and I’d suggest we focus on the positives. “What are some good things right now, Jason? We have to focus on the good things.”
It isn’t dark yet.
It isn’t raining.
Neither of our nipples are bleeding (like the unfortunate man who just ran past us).
Around Mile 19, I looked at my Timex for my overall race time. 11:35. With ~7 miles to go, could we finish under 13 hours? It would be close. Jason suggested we discuss our chances while running instead of walking. I concurred.
As we passed the 12-hour mark, another athlete looked at me and said, “This is such a long time to be exercising.” Truer words have never been spoken.
When I was walking, it was a fast walk. Somewhere in the 12:30 pace. I’d wait for Jason to start running again and catch up to me. I got a little bit past the Mile 22 aid station and turned around to coax Jason to start running again. He waved me on, “Leave me! You go! I’ll see you at the finish!”
It was very soap opera-like (in my head). At this point, everything was overly dramatic. I was on my own.
I just kept doing the same thing. Running as far as I could, then walking as little as I could before running again. Our race bibs had to be on our fronts for the run, so all of the spectators and aid station volunteers were encouraging me by name. “You’re almost there, Molly!” By this time, it was dusk. The reality of the finish was *right there* and yet so far away. The volunteers at these aid stations were phenomenal. I made a point to thank them as I walked through.
You just keep going because there’s nothing else to do. I didn’t want to be doing this anymore, but the only way to not be doing it was to cross the finish line. It was as simple as that — almost. Remember that dehydration problem? I had several major muscles that were threatening to cramp up on me. Quads, hamstrings, calves. At that point, walking would be the only option and I’d be lucky if I could walk if one or more of those muscle groups seized me. I just kept sipping the water and broth at the aid stations and hoping I could make it 2 more miles. A runner collapsed in front of me, overtaken by a cramp. The volunteers helped him. He kept hobbling on.
By this time, I headed back into the gauntlet of downtown Penticton. When I ran through this at the beginning, I knew it would suck ass on the return trip and I was not wrong. By sucking ass, I mean we all had to go out of our way to get to the fucking finish line. Let me be clear that the spectators were AWESOME. They brought so much energy and enthusiasm, and I’m pretty sure I would have sulked to the finish if it hadn’t been for their belief that I CAN DO IT like they promised me I could.
I willed myself to run through this section just so I didn’t look like a total asshole in front of all these people who were out here cheering me on. Of course, I was keeping an eye on my watch to see where I was compared to my 13-hour goal. I got to the T-intersection where I soooooooo wanted to turn RIGHT and go into the finish line… but the course route took us LEFT for another six blocks. We then did a tight U-turn in the middle of the road, so we were looking at finishers on our way out and looking at those behind us as we were on our way into the finish line. I saw Jason there and we high-fived each other. Comrades!
I had passed the 25-mile marker and looked at my watch thinking could easily break 13 hours in 12 minutes if I only had 1.2 miles to go. But my watch said I was at 24.6 miles. It became very clear at this moment that the course runs long. These are probably the worst four words that have ever been uttered. I had been planning on a certain trajectory and I knew I’d have to over-compensate because of this.
The spectators were screaming at me. I wanted to scream back, “I’M DOING THE BEST I CAN!” But at the same time, I knew they had already moved on to the next athlete and I needed to focus on what I was doing. So I focused on running. I looked at that finish line and focused on it. I watched that clock ticking down and mustered every ounce of energy that I had no idea was there. The crowd was tremendous fuel to my fire.
I love this sequence of pictures:
And of course, Jeff’s video:
MOLLY SWEENEY, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!
Things went downhill from there (see also: dehydration), but crossing that finish line was a glorious moment. I told the people catching me on the other side that I WOULD LIKE TO SIT DOWN NOW, PLEASE. They asked if I wanted to get my photo taken first. Yes. Yes, I would like to document this moment. So I went from bent-over, near-vomiting to this:
I’ve got the trying-too-hard-to-look-happy crazy eyes going. Otherwise, not bad… all things considered. Greg’s finisher photo looks more like a person actually feels: relieved and happy to be done! And why not, with a 10:51:57 time?! I’m so proud of him!
** of note, we both bought all of our (respective) professional photos taken on the course. These are legit! **
Many of you have asked about the recovery. Alas, the recap of the run has been a saga in itself, so I will save that for another post.
Thanks to everyone who came on this journey! I loved knowing that every time I crossed a timing mat that you would know I’d made it to the next level of the game. Since I finished an hour ahead of schedule, I love that my mom was tracking me from Iowa and *happened* to be watching the live finish as they said that “Molly Sweeney — all the way from San Mateo California” was going to be the last finisher under 13 hours.
Official run time = 5:05:43 / 11:41 pace
Greg’s run time = 4:04:21 / 9:20 pace
Kidder’s run time = 4:31:10 / 10:21 pace