Reston Area Triathletes RATS.net Logo

Race Result

Racer: Jen Tallman
Race: Ironman USA
Date: Sunday, July 20, 2008
Location: Lake Placid, NY
Race Type: Triathlon - Ironman
Age Group: Female 30 - 34
Time: 16:41:38
Overall Place: 2161 / 2300
Age Group Place: 103 / 111
Comment: The most awesome day of my life!

Race Report:

Ironman is a journey much longer than 140.6 miles. It encompasses at least the year between registration and race day. It is months of early morning workouts, miles on the bike, thousands of calories, and countless pairs of running shoes. It is also something deeper than the physical. It is a journey within yourself, beyond your limitations. For me, Ironman began with a death sentence at 26 years old. It was part of defeating illness, negativity, and doubt. All of those things now lay defeated along the 140.6 rain drenched miles I traveled on July 20, 2008.

I arrived in Lake Placid on Monday, nearly a week before the race. I had been traveling up north since the 6th, so I figured I might as well stay north until race day. I also wanted to get to the grocery store before the IM rush cleaned them out! I stayed in the RV, aka RATS mobile, aka rock star triathlete tour bus at the KOA in Wilmington. The KOA was located right off of rt 86, so my drives into town got me very familiar with the final 10 miles of the bike loop.

I filled my pre-race days capturing the evolution of Ironman Village on camera, taking in the town, doing some light bricks and swims, lying around the RV watching Gilmore Girls on DVD, and making panicked phone calls to my coach. I was enjoying the time alone to focus on the feat that lay ahead for me on Sunday.

The weather in Placid was beautiful most of the week, and I checked in at the KOA office daily to see that rain was still expected in the evening on Sunday. I kept hoping that the forecast would change, but was thankful that it wasn't supposed to rain until after 5, and I knew I'd be off the bike by then.

As the week passed, most of the people who had intended to come watch me race had decided for various reasons not to. I was unshaken. I knew that Ironman had to come from within, so supporters or no, I could do the race.

Thursday, the first official day of Ironman festivities, I started my morning with the Gatorade swim. I checked my bag, put on my wetsuit, and took myself out for one loop of the two loop course. I finished in 45 minutes, and I was pleased. I expected to finish the 2.4 mile swim on Sunday in about 1:30, so 45 minutes for 1.2 miles was right on target. I showered and headed over to the high school for registration.

I got in the line for USAT members, found my name and bib number on the board outside and waited for the line to begin moving. I was 2075. I had hoped to meet cool people in the registration line, but conversations seemed to form on either side of me as if I was invisible. I knew I could have joined one of them, but I thought maybe it was better to be alone. I was going to be alone a lot on Sunday.

Registration was a sea of people. USAT card and ID in hand, I made my way to the front and got my athlete info card. I corrected information, signed the two waivers, and headed over to get weighed. After the weigh in, I went to get my race packet. I was handed a bag of transition bags and an envelope containing my bibs, swim cap, bike numbers and stickers for the bags. The volunteer snapped a holographic wristband on my arm that displayed my race number, 2075. It was my ID for the remainder of the event. I stared at it sparkling under the fluorescent gym lights. I was really here. I was checked in. I was expected at the swim start. I was expected at the finish line. No turning back now.

With the expo open, I decided to take a look around. I browsed all of the M-Dot gear in the merchandise tent, and I bought a short sleeve jersey. It was the only gear I'd allow myself to purchase before I earned the right to sport the almighty M-Dot. I just needed the jersey before they sold out of them.

While waiting in line to try out one of those bathroom scale/supercomputer thingys, I met up with two girls I'd met at Triple T. Kelly was the girl who was exactly one loop ahead of me on the run in the fourth and final race of the weekend. I accompanied her to the finish and then headed out for my second loop. It was cool to see her again! We ended up having lunch. It was nice to have some company to distract me from the nerves I could feel building.

Social contact became the theme of the day when Scott, Karen and Kevin from RATS came into town that evening. I had dinner with them, before retiring to the RV to pack transition bags and sleep.

Upon my return to the RV, I emptied my race packet on the floor, spread out the sheet of sticky numbers, the bags, my cap, timing chip, and the ads. I sorted everything into piles of stuff I need for the race and stuff to look at later. I labeled each bag with my number, placed them each in a seat, and began sorting gear into the seat. I made lists of things that I needed to add to the bags on Saturday or Sunday. I also made a list of things I needed to put on my bike on Sunday morning. I placed race numbers on my top tube and on my aero bars, since my stem is little and has my computer mounted to it. I photographed the entire process, and I retired to bed to dream of race day!

Friday, I woke to rain on the roof. It was a pleasant sound, so I lay there and thought about my race. My coach told me not to do anything over 15 minutes on Friday. He also told me to eat a ton and try not to burn it off. My breakfast was one of my famous green smoothies!

At about 11:00, Scott, Karen and Kevin came to pick me up. We drove out to Ausable Forks to go tubing. As luck would have it, the walk to the put in was about 15 minutes, and the ride down the river was cool and lazy. We also happened to finish up and get in the car to leave just before a thunderstorm cut loose on us. When the rain let up, we stopped for Ice cream at a roadside stand on the bike course on 86. I got some raspberry sorbet... so there you go, Ryan, 15 minutes of activity, relaxation and calories!!

I had decided to go to the athlete dinner, since I was nervous and wanted to be in the room for the entire pre-race meeting. I figured I'd get to eat some pasta with tomato sauce or something. I met my friend Kyle (also a first time IM) and got in the line. I was offered a choice of meat or cheese ravioli. I guess they hadn't considered the fact that there are vegan athletes in the race who need to eat just as badly as the omnivores. I had them pile my plate with as many green beans as would fit on it, and Kyle and I found seats.

Once we were seated, we discussed how it felt to be Ironvirgins in the grips of pre-race anxiety with less than 48 hours to swim start! I took a picture of my ridiculous green bean dinner. I knew my coach, Ryan, would have a fit if he knew what I was eating! Of course, I planned to go back to the RV and eat some of the tons of pasta I'd bought in anticipation of Ryan's carb and caloric demands for me! Turns out, he's a pretty smart guy, as that scale I tried out at the expo told me I have the metabolism of a 14 year old and that I burn 1421 a day calories just to stay alive. It's not easy putting in the training time AND the eating time that it takes to be a vegan Ironman! Basically if I can't eat while doing it, it's off my schedule!

Kyle and I took pictures of each other at the dinner. We both look like deer in the headlights. Holy hell, what DID we get ourselves into! I was kind of jealous of Kyle, as he had no worries about crossing the finish line, it was just a mater of how fast. I, on the other hand, was constantly running calculations of how fast I had to go on each leg in order to make the time cutoffs for each event. Memories of the devastation that enveloped me when I got pulled out of the water at the Bay Swim were knocking at the door to my mind. It was difficult to keep them out, but I knew that they served no positive purpose.

The program at dinner was nice, but Kyle and I just wanted the pre-race meeting to start so that we could go home, put the final touches on our bikes and bags and get some sleep. I knew that Friday was the night to sleep, as Saturday was sure to be as restful as Christmas Eve when I was 7, only multiplied by 140.6! Still, I tried to stay in the moment, and immerse myself in the Ironman experience. The videos were either inspiring aka terrifying, or funny... think dude in nothing but a Speedo and a heart rate monitor in the grocery store!

By the time they actually got to the pre-race meeting, Kyle and I were standing by the door ready to beat traffic out of the horse show grounds. The information they gave out was nothing that I didn't already know from my intensive study of the race materials we had been provided. Kyle and I wished each other luck and headed back to our respective lodging.

Upon returning to the RV, I cooked myself a heaping pile of spinach artichoke pasta with organic sauce. I forgot to add my fake meatballs, but I didn't realize that until two days later when I found them hiding beneath frozen fruit in the freezer. When dinner was heating, I checked my bags and lists once again, and confirmed that I was prepared to check it all in by 3pm the next day.

I ate dinner with my feet up watching more Gilmore Girls. I followed it up with some soy ice cream! Once the feast had settled, I went to bed with dreams of the finishers chute dancing in my head.

The next morning, I slept in as long as I could. It was a little difficult, as RV parks are kinda crowded and noisy. Kids, dogs, golf carts, and engines.... not the most peaceful environment, but worth it to be in my own little house on wheels. I showered, drank a smoothie, did a final check on the bags and bike, and loaded the car for the ride to town.

Lake Placid was all abuzz at noon, when I rolled in. I drove around the paid parking lot for about 20 minutes before I found someone pulling out. I wanted to get a parking space close to the oval to keep my legs from doing much walking. Ryan's instructions for Saturday echoed in my head, "On Saturday, do nothing. Eat a lot and try not to burn any of it!"

I could feel my heartbeat in my chest as I entered the oval. Triathletes were everywhere rolling gorgeous carbon dreams on two wheels. It was a sea of sinewy legs and M-Dot tattoos, carbon, and technical fabric. I looked at the holographic band on my right wrist, took a breath and reminded myself that I was part of all this madness! What blissful madness it was!

I had talked to Chuck and Joe who were on their way, and I was getting an update from them as I walked to the transition area entrance. I had to pause mid-conversation when I rounded the end of the oval and found myself in the finishers chute, face to face with the towering archway, crowned by the official race clock! I shouted giddily into the phone, "I'm in the finisher's chute!! This is where I'm gonna be running tomorrow night! This is where I'm going to become an Ironman!! Holy shit!"

I entered transition with my bike and bags, my entry permitted after a check of my wristband. I found my rack, and hung my bike next to the bikes of other women in my age group. I was comforted to see that they looked as nervous as I felt. I felt a little panic rise when I realized that nearly everyone had brought plastic to cover their bikes in the event that the ever thickening cloud cover decided to let loose with the rain that was still forecast to arrive sometime in the five o'clock hour on Sunday.

After hanging my bags in their designated location, and taking more pictures, I begged a plastic bag off of a vendor and returned to cover my bike computer. I felt a little better having at least that covered. I put the issue to rest with the thought that my own personal bike mechanic was on his way and could surely take care of whatever a little rain might do to poor Contessa.

I started to feel sorry for myself not having any fans to make signs for me or enter digital messages. I texted and called to get people's messages for me, and I typed them into the electronic message computer... not knowing until I overheard someone ask how the messages worked, that I'd only see the last message I entered as I crossed a special mat at miles 8 and 21 on the run course. I decided to type in messages for anyone I knew in the race that didn't already have a message in the system.

After that, it was off to the Janus inspiration tent to make my own damned signs! They were all out of the big square signs that would be posted along River Road, the long desolate stretch of the run course, but they had 2 hand held signs left. Perfect! One for each of my two fans! I spent about two hours in the tent decorating my signs with markers and ribbons. It was fun!

When I finished, I took a last look around the expo, retrieved my car and left. Karen and Scott had invited me to dinner that evening, so I decided to go find a light lunch. I drove down to the little organic store at the edge of town. I remembered from last year that they had a wicked good vegan lasagna! My light lunch ended up being vegan lasagna, a garbanzo burger, two whole grain rolls, and a huge hunk of vegan chocolate ganache torte! See Ryan, I do eat like mad! Fat and happy, I returned to the RV to lay around until it was time to feed again.

I met Scott, Karen and Kevin at a little pizza place on Main St. for dinner. I stuffed in more pasta and drank a lot of water. I had been making hydration a science for about two weeks at this point, drinking water and monitoring my electrolyte intake to keep everything balanced for the race which was now about 12 hours away. Dinner conversation was very race focused, and I was grateful to Kevin for mentioning some items I'd want to add to my bags in the morning.

When I got back to my house on wheels, I rechecked my lists, added items to them, and began mixing my race nutrition. I made a 1,000 calorie bottle for the bike, another for the bike special needs bag, a 500 calorie bottle for the bike to run bag and another for the run special needs bag. I also made two avocado, olive oil, sea salt and pepper sandwiches and two almond butter and jelly sandwiches. I cut them into quarters and divided them between the bike, bike to run and two special needs bags. I called my coach for one last talk before the race. He told me I should be going to bed. He said race by feel, stay in the zone where I could be comfortable riding/running all day. He said don't pay too much attention to the bike computer or HRM, because he didn't want me to push too hard or slow too much and lose precious minutes. Then he ordered me to bed ASAP!

Shortly after getting off of the phone, Chuck and Joe arrived! I greeted them, careful to avoid bumping into Joe's recently repaired collar bone. I popped the tops on two energy drinks, so that they'd be flat by morning. I prepared beds and sent everyone to them. I climbed into my bed and stared at the ceiling. Sleep did not come until after 2am, and my alarm was set for 4:15.

I woke many times in those 2 hours of "sleep." When the alarm went off, I was ready, running on nervous energy. In case I ran out of that, I slammed an energy drink while I poured the two flat ones into bike bottles. I roused the boys and set them to loading the car, admonishing Chuck for trying to do work on his Blackberry. I finished adding things to my bags, gathered my list and went off to change.

Smoothie in one hand and wetsuit in the other, I climbed into the back of Chuck's car and we headed up the road to Lake Placid. I directed Chuck to park in the neighborhood behind the school, knowing that he would be able to get out from there relatively easily. I grabbed my special needs bags, the items I needed to add to my bike and my transition bags, my wetsuit and my smoothie, and we walked up to the oval.

The boys went to Starbucks while I entered transition. The energy in the oval was buzzing. I had goosebumps. I put nutrition on my bike, and got in line to get my tires pumped. My hands were shaking too bad to get my pump to attach to the tips of the presta valves that protruded from Chuck's deep dish Mavic Cosmic Carbones that I'd borrowed. My cell phone rang with an unfamiliar number, and I answered wondering who in the world would be calling at 5:15 on a Sunday morning. It was my sister, Maggy, calling from Italy to wish me luck. I shrieked into the phone and started to cry. I was so excited and so nervous and so happy. The conversation was brief, but it meant so much to talk to her!

I called my mom, as the pump line crept forward. I told her through my tears, "I'm gonna be an Ironman, mom." She wished me luck, and I got off the phone as I reached the head of the line. A volunteer expertly pumped my tires to 110psi, and handed my bike back to me. I took it back to the rack. The sky was just getting light. Thick clouds hung over the oval. I hoped that the forecast was right about the rain coming after 5. I told myself that if it didn't work out that way, I'd be ok. I thought back to the Kinetic Sprint in April.

I exited the oval, knowing that the next time I saw it I'd be in T1. Chuck and Joe were just getting back from Starbucks. YAY soy mocha! My stomach was feeling a little too nervous to drink the last of my smoothie. It was a big one... so big that I was actually carrying the Vita-Mix container with the rest of the smoothie that wouldn't fit in my Nalgene bottle. The coffee was good though.

I saw the body markers standing in the middle of the street holding sharpies above their heads. I walked over, and got in a line for one. I asked the boys to get out the camera, but Chuck said it was still in the car. He was off and running to get it, leaving Joe and me in the body marking line. I explained to Joe, that as my support team/fan club, I needed them to take pictures to document the event!

I reached the front of the body marking line and the guy wrote 2075 on both of my arms below where my jersey sleeves would be, and on my thighs below my bike shorts. Then he wrote my age, 31, on the back of my right calf, and sent me on my way. I stood in the line for the restroom, while Joe kept watch for Chuck and my camera.

After a successful trip to the porta-john, I stood in the parking lot of the Mobil at the corner of Main and Mirror Lake Dr, lathering my arms, legs and neck with Body Glide. I slid into my wetsuit, pulling it up half way, as the warm humid air was not conducive to walking around for another 40 minutes wrapped in neoprene. My hands were still shaking, and I was checking my watch.

As soon as Chuck got back, I herded them up the hill to the swim start so I could drop my special needs bags. I left them at the corner, so that Joe didn't have to walk too far. I knew it would be a long day to hang out outside cheering with a collar bone fresh full of steel hardware. I hiked up Mirror Lake Dr. staring out between the trees at the swim course all laid out. Pink and blue caps were bobbing in the water all along the shoreline. I would be among them soon. I found the bag drops and handed my bags to the volunteers.

I headed back to the corner, found Joe and Chuck, and got back in line for a porta-john. Time to put the wetsuit the rest of the way on. The clock was ticking away the minutes to swim start. The crowd was thick on the lawn around the lake. I slipped my arms into the wetsuit, zipped the back, and turned to Chuck, as he was trained at the Bay Swim in the art of the Ryan Vingris wetsuit adjustment! Chuck snapped a few pics, I put on my swim cap and goggles, and headed down to the water.

It was a little difficult navigating my way down, as I found myself stuck on the wrong side of the fences that were set up to create a path for us to run from the swim finish to T1. Less than 10 minutes to start, and I was lost!! A volunteer saw my wandering wetsuit clad body and pink cap and pulled me out of the crowd. He showed me an opening in the fence and guided me through it, wishing me luck as I thanked him and ran down to the water.

The sand was cool on my feet. The water was comfortable, but I still shivered a little as it leaked in through the zipper of my wetsuit. The slate sky seemed to be hanging just over Mirror Lake. I looked at my watch and saw that my heart rate was already pushing zone 2. I took a few deep breaths and looked around at the sea of wetsuits. 2,300 athletes, give or take, corralled behind a buoy line, waiting to begin the journey to Ironman. A good portion of us were there for the first time, earning our M-Dots. Some would cross the finish, others would not, but we were all standing waiting for the signal that we could begin the final stretch of a race that began many months, or even years before this day.

I knew that there were supposed to be flags in the water indicating where we could seed ourselves according to anticipated swim time, but I couldn't find them. I was standing near the front, and very close to the wire that ran down the buoy line under the water. I planned to stay on that wire, so that I could save time on sighting. I also knew that a mass start involving 2,300 people swimming in one direction could be dangerous. It was common to see people finish the swim with black eyes and broken fingers and toes resulting from accidental collisions. My plan was to find a spot on the wire, and imagine myself in a cocoon, swimming in my own little space.

The horn sounded, I put my face in the water and started swimming, only to have to come back up, as there was a bit of a traffic jam in front of me. We approached the first buoy and the crowd began to thin enough to actually swim. I found the wire in the water, and staked my claim on this space. It was effortless, and I was calm. I marveled at the current that is created when 2,300 people begin swimming in the same direction at the same time. I was bumped and jostled a little here and there, and I know my hands came down on a number of butts, but no one hit me hard, and I hit no one. Somewhere around the middle of the first leg, I turned my head to breathe and felt rain drops pelting my cheek with a vengeance. I silently hoped that it would blow over by the time I reached T1 and the bike start. I remembered the thick grey clouds that were pressing down all morning, and thought that this was unlikely. I pushed the thought of it out of my head. If I had to ride the 112 miles in the rain, so be it. I was going to be an Ironman, and there was nothing that would stop me.

The turn around came faster than I expected, as did the final stretch of the first loop. I started to hear the crowd growing louder with each breath I took. I began to see vegetation coming up from the bottom as I swam into the shallows. When my fingers scraped sand, I stood, ran up the beach through the driving rain, passed under the archway and over the timing mat. The beep signaling that I was one step closer to Ironman sounded in my ears. I listened for my name on the loudspeaker, but I didn't hear it before I was back in the water and swimming out for the second loop. I glanced at my watch to see how I was doing just before I lowered my face, and saw that I had forgotten to start it and that my HRM was no longer registering my HR on the screen.

The crowd was much thinner by now, but I was still swimming with enough people to get a good draft from the collective movement. Once again, the first leg went by quickly, and I began thinking that I was on pace for a PR swim. Of course, any time would be a PR, as this was my first race of this distance. I thought I was looking at a PR from my training times though. I knew with each breath that the rain was not letting up a bit. The drops were falling with such force that they stung my cheeks. I was happy that I had spent so much time hydrating, as I peed so many times on the swim that I lost count! I rode the draft all the way back to the shore. I exited the water into the downpour. I started to cry as I ran. I said out loud to no one in particular, "I'm gonna be an Ironman! I'm doing this!"

I unzipped my wetsuit and ran over to the wetsuit strippers. My cap and goggles were in my hands as two guys grabbed my wetsuit, stripped it down to my waist, ordered me onto the ground where they yanked it off of my legs. I felt my goggles get caught up in the wetsuit as they pulled, and I heard the elastic snap. I was willing to sacrifice a pair of goggles for Ironman though. They deserved to retire after all of our miles in the water anyway. One of the volunteers tossed me my wetsuit, I thanked them, and took off running down the carpet to transition, about two blocks away.

I was scanning the crowd for Joe and Chuck, but I never saw them. I was a little disappointed, because I really wanted to high five someone and share this bursting joy I was feeling. I put that aside and began to mentally run though transition. I entered the oval, smiling volunteers cheered and directed me towards the bags. As I approached the bags, volunteers began calling out 2075, and by the time I was at my row, someone was handing me my bag and directing me to the change tent.

The inside of the change tent was a cross between a sauna and a mud bath. The grass was soaked and torn to shreds, mud was ankle deep, and there was steam rising off of all the bodies that were crammed in there rushing to prepare for a very wet 112 mile ride. I managed to find a seat. I dug through my bag, threw on my jersey, race number and helmet, and stepped into my shoes. I put my emergency kit in my jersey pocket, grabbed knee and arm warmers, briefly considered putting them on, decided against it and stuffed them in my jersey pockets as well. A volunteer grabbed my bag to re-rack it, as I sloshed through the grass, out into the driving rain and over to the bikes. As I approached, volunteers called out my number, and by the time I got there, my bike was ready and waiting. I thanked them, grabbed Contessa and ran towards the mount line at the back of the oval.

I mounted the bike, stomped the mud out of my cleats and took off, as volunteers cautioned me about the slick pavement and the first two hills that would end in a sharp left turn. As I headed down the first hill, I saw Chuck and Joe cheering on the side of the road! They had my signs and were yelling my name. I passed to quickly to respond, but I was happy to have seen them!

The course was lined with spectators, yelling wildly, wrapped in trash bags and ponchos, huddling under umbrellas and waving signs. They thinned out as I rode out of town on Rt 73. There was an occasional person or group lining the road. Several were standing under their tailgates blaring music to motivate us. I was grateful that there were people willing to brave the weather to cheer us on and be part of the Ironman experience.

There were quite a number of riders on the course with me, and I was concentrating on navigating my way safely in the pack on the wet roads without getting in the draft zone behind anyone. With this weather, the 4 minute draft penalty might be the difference between a finishers medal and killing my finish line dream. Rt 73 wound its way towards Keene, and I knew from driving the course that there were about 7 miles of steep winding descent coming up soon. As thrilling as it looked from the car on a bright sunny afternoon, it was much more treacherous now. I was confident in my ability to descend, even in the rain, because I had done much steeper descents on narrower roads with switchbacks in Italy. I was grateful now for that practice. I knew I'd need to be aware of other riders and what they might do, especially knowing that everyone was on edge. Rain, race day anxiety and adrenaline are a dicey combination.

We hit the first descent. I found and easy line in the pack, and carved my way down the hill, passing several people. It wasn't the rush that it is to pass someone in a smaller race, as I knew it meant nothing to pass someone at mile 10 of 112. Far too much lay ahead to count on anything but what was right here right now. I was comfortable enough with the space I had claimed that I was actually able to enjoy some of the scenery. The Ausable River ran along to my right as I carried momentum from my descent into the small rise ahead. A short flat section followed and then pitched into another steep descent.

I was starting to get chilly when I finally slowed to make the left turn onto Rt 9N. The town of Keene was out in full force, and it was really nice to see smiling faces again! Rt 9N is nice and flat and it was nice to get my legs pumping again. I was hoping it would warm me up. I got to thinking about the quote that Ryan sent me about eating before you're hungry, drinking before you're thirsty, covering up before you're cold and removing layers before you're hot. I figured I'd better pull over and at least put on the arm warmers before I got really cold. At the next aid station, I pulled over, put the arm warmers on, and ate some endurolytes. I knew I was sweating out more than I felt like I was.

I took in calories from my 1,000 calorie bottle and continued to eat endurolytes about 1 every hour and a half. Somewhere along Rt 9N, I needed to pee. The thought of taking extra time to get in a porta-john, peel off wet shorts, pee, and try to get the wet shorts back on in a comfortable position just wasn't appealing. I remembered hearing about the pros peeing on the bike. I remembered a conversation I had with a Triple T athlete at my first Triple T in 2007. He said he peed on his bike during the half. Here I was in a raging rainstorm riding 112 miles and worrying about making the bike cutoffs at 2:30 and 5:30. Looked like it was time to rock it like a pro. It took a little bit of mental work to be able to do it, and I kept checking behind me to make sure no one was back there to get hit. Of course that could have served them right for trying to draft.

I made it into Jay and knew that once I turned on Rt 83 that the fun easy part was over, and it was time to climb! I made the left, downshifted and started pedaling. I reminded myself that I'd have to do this one more time before I could go to T2 and run the marathon. Traffic in the other direction, on the open side of the road, was backed up like crazy. There were a lot of people in their cars who had rolled the windows down and were blasting music and cheering. There were also some people that had looks on their faces that made me think I'd better not ride too close for fear of getting knocked off my bike!

I made it out of Jay and into Wilmington. I made the turn down the out and back to Black Brook. It was a hilly and pretty deserted. I knew that last year there had been a big party at the turnaround in Black Brook. People were in costume and were playing music. This year they'd decided not to have an aid station in Black Brook though, so I wasn't counting on the same level of enthusiasm at the turnaround. The out and back was longer than I thought. I made it out, crossed the timing mat and kept on going. It was great to hear that little beep clicking off another section of my Ironman dream. Back out on Rt 86, I made the left turn to head up past Whiteface Mountain and back into Placid. This section was the last 12 miles of the loop, and it was nearly all uphill. The road pitched upward steadily then flattened out. There were several sections of false flats where a grade, indiscernible to my eyes, was very apparent to my legs. I just kept spinning though. I started to feel a twinge of hunger, though I'd steadily sipped from my bottle o' gel. I figured I'd better eat something solid. Assessing my choices, almond butter and jelly and avocado, olive oil, S&P, I decided on the avocado. I was tiring of the sweet taste of gel, and I knew I had more than half of the bike leg left to go, not to mention the marathon.

I opened the zip lock bag and left the bag open in my bento box. I tried to grab a quarter of a sandwich, but the bread was falling apart from the abuse of being stuffed into my bento box. Knowing that I needed that solid food to keep from starving on the remainder of the ride and the marathon, I began scooping handfuls of sandwich out of the bag and into my mouth. I ate quickly, because every second that passed, the sandwich bag filled with more rain. I ate and smeared avocado onto my shorts, knowing that the rain would wash it all away.

I finished my sandwich just in time to climb the bears. My legs were burning, and I was glad my HRM had refused to come back to life, because I know I wasn't in zone 2. I was starting to worry about having to do this a second time. I was only about 6 miles out of town, and I was hoping that I'd see Joe and Chuck, and that the energy of the crowd in general would refuel me for the next 56 miles.

The last steep climb into town was a beast, but it was lined with people. I couldn't have been going more that 8-10 mph, so I looked into the faces of the people lining the roadway on both sides. They reminded me that I was going to be an Ironman. They encouraged me to keep going. I thanked them all for being out in the rain. It really made all the difference. I checked the time and was relieved to find that I was pulling into town an hour ahead of the first loop time cutoff.

The ride through town stirred my emotions again. Soaked spectators were crammed in behind the fences that enclosed the race course. I searched the faces for Joe and Chuck or Karen and Kevin or anyone I might know. I saw no one. I was teary from the joy of making the first loop. I didn't have much time to contemplate it though, as I was approaching the special needs area.

I stopped on Mirror Lake Drive to get my special needs bag. Again, the volunteers were awesome. They shouted my number as I approached, and had my bag in hand when I arrived. I quickly exchanged my nearly empty 1,000 calorie bottle for the second one, ditched my soggy knee warmers, got a fresh pouch of endurolytes, got a second avocado sandwich and took off.

The enthusiasm of the crowd was contagious. It refueled me and I was energized for the second loop! I rode around behind the school and took the fork to the right that was labeled second loop. I knew that when I returned that sign would be gone and I would ride to the left to transition. Only 26.2 miles to the goal.

Riding out of town the second time, the crowds were thinner than they had been on the first loop. I was still scanning faces hoping to see someone familiar who could yell my name and know who I was. There was less bike traffic on the road this time too. I hoped that I'd make better time on the descents with less traffic, but the rain continued to fall fast and furious, so I knew I couldn't push the envelope too much.

When I reached the descent into Keene, the road was still under an inch of moving water. I picked up speed as the road/river plummeted before me. The rain drops hit my face at what I guess to be about 40mph. It felt like being shot in the face with 1,000 pellet guns. It was difficult to decide whether to look over my glasses and subject my eyes to the beating from the rain or to look through the wet lenses and barely see. Someone later said that they put Rain-x on their cycling glasses for rainy rides. Oh to have known that earlier, of course, I probably would have declined to do so, as I trusted that the rain would hold off until 5, as was promised all week by the forecasters.

There were a few people still cheering us on in Keene as we made the left onto Rt. 9N again. Other riders were more talkative now. We would speak briefly, encouraging one another. I was getting a lot of comments on the Wild Thing jersey. The volunteers at the aid stations were great. I was drinking enough that I switched a bottle at almost every aid station, but kept an extra in my rear cages in case I dropped one or missed a pass. They handed out grapes, and bananas, which I took. The fruit was good solid food, and easier and less messy than my sandwiches. I wasn't feeling really hungry or thirsty. I continued to fuel and hydrate, and pee on the bike. It got easier as the day wore on.

When I started the climb out of Jay, I was feeling really good. I made the out and back and still felt good. I felt better than I had at this point on the first loop. I was careful not to let myself be fooled into pushing it. I still had the last 12 miles of climbing to tackle. I had the bears ahead of me. I was already over the mileage of my longest training ride, which was done on the trainer due to weather much like this day's. Funny to think how much more mentally taxing it was to ride the trainer for 5 hours than it was to ride this course in this weather.

I was enjoying a very mild descent just before the turn to the out and back. The rain was stinging my face again, and I felt one drop that particularly stung on my jaw line just next to my right ear. I was startled by the sting and put my hand up to my face. I found a bee's stinger protruding from my skin. What the heck kind of crazy bee was out on in this weather? I guess he was much like the 2,300 crazy athletes who were living dreams in this weather!

I made the turn to the out and back. It seemed to fly by this time, and before I knew it I was crossing the timing mat and heading back out towards 86 to climb the bears. As I approached Rt 86, I was starting to get discouraged, my legs were starting to ache a little, and I really wanted to start the run. I glanced at my watch and knew I was still on pace to finish an hour before the time cutoff. I was very pleased to see that I had held a steady pace over the whole course so far.

Rt. 86 loomed in the distance. My concentration was broken by frantic yelling. I heard my name in the middle of it all. I looked to my right as I turned, and I saw Joe and Chuck waving the signs I had made and yelling wildly. Joe was wearing a red poncho and Chuck was wearing a white trash bag. My fans! I waved as I sped by. It was just what I needed to get up the mountains! I picked up my pace a bit, and headed for the corner in Wilmington where Rt. 86 takes a left and heads downhill for the last descent worth mentioning. Then the climbing began.

The river runs along the right side of the road on Rt. 86. It was raging and full of water. Wisps of cloud hung low around the ridges, and the rain continued. There were a few moments when it was more soaking than drenching, but at this point, wet was just wet. I passed the last water stop and grabbed a handful of grapes. They were firm and sweet. I ate them quickly before the grade increased again.

I watched as my odometer clicked through the miles. At 100, I congratulated myself on my first century ride. When I passed the sign indicating mile 108, I checked my watch again. I had held my pace! My legs were aching from the repetitive motion. I was going to be so happy to get off the bike and run. I really did want to run though! I didn't just want to take a nap in transition or call it quits. I knew that somewhere around mile 20, I'd be longing for my bike again, but I also knew that 26.2 miles was nothing compared to the distance I have already covered.

I hit the last hill to come into town again. The soggy spectators still lined the course. I knew I must have looked bad, because they were cheering intensely. "You can do this! You're going to be an Ironman! Almost there! This is the last hill! Keep going! You've got this!" I was concentrating too hard to do anything but smile in their direction. A right turn, over some small rollers, and back onto Mirror Lake Drive. This time, the half of the road that was the out and back for the run course was full of people at least half way through their marathons. Some were even running their last miles and heading in to the finish!

I began to cry again. I was doing Ironman. I swam 2.4 miles. I biked 112 miles. All that stood between me and my medal now was a marathon. I had until midnight to finish. It was about 4:45 pm.

I rode around the back of the school and pulled into transition. It was a little difficult to get my leg over the bike, but I did. A volunteer took Contessa back to her rack, and I trotted off to get my bike to run bag. My cleats caused me to run funny, and the guys at the medical tent thought I was in need of attention. I explained it was just me trying to run in shoes with a carbon sole and 1/4 inch of metal screwed into the bottom of them. They don't make for a very graceful jog.

My bag was handed to me as soon as I got to the rows of bags, and I sloshed my way through ankle deep mud to the change tent. A volunteer ushered me to a seat, opened my bag and began handing me the items I asked for. I grabbed a towel to wipe the mud from my feet as best I could. I put on socks and running shoes. It felt good to have something dry on my feet no matter how short lived it was. I stuffed a 500 calorie bottle of diluted gel into my jersey pocket, gave the bag to the volunteer who wished me luck. I ran out of the tent, squishing through the mud as water immediately soaked my shoes and socks.

My legs were ready to run. They felt so good. I ran out of transition to the cheers of the crowd. Tears stung my eyes again and mixed with rain as I ran through town and made a right on Rt. 73. I was worried about making the midnight cutoff, and I felt really good, so I ran. I told myself I'd run at least 2 miles before I walked, but at 2, I felt so good that I said I'd run at least 5.

There were plenty of spectators along Rt 73, including some who had set up a tent and had placed cardboard signs in the road approximately 15 feet apart indicating a "no walking zone." I ran past the horse show grounds and the ski jumps. Rain fell hard and cloud shrouded mountains were the backdrop of it all. I turned down River Rd, knowing that this was a long and desolate stretch of the course, and that it would be even more so by the time I passed through on the second loop.

I kept running. I still felt good except for a blister that was forming on my left foot. I also had to pee. Being that it was still raining as hard as ever, and I had learned to pee on the bike, I figured it was the perfect opportunity to learn to pee on the run. It took a little concentration, but before long, I was peeing like a pro!

The aid stations out here were really great. They had tons of food. I took bananas and lots of coke. I wanted the caffeine. It felt so good. I was jealous of the people drinking the chicken broth, but I decided it would be a bad idea to try it having not eaten meat in nearly two years! Just before one aid station, there were signs on cloud shaped plywood. The theme of the station was heaven. The volunteers had on halos. They really were angels too. All of the Ironman volunteers were all day long. I grabbed pretzels, coke and kept running.

I ran all the way to the turn around. I stopped briefly to put moleskin on my left heel. Then I got up and kept running. Signs that people made at the Janus tent were posted all along the roadside. I didn't have one there, but they were fun to look at anyway. I saw some for people I knew in the race. At mile 8 I crossed the timing mat for the Ford Motivation Station and my personal electronic message appeared on the screen. It made me think of all the messages people had sent me in the days preceding the race. I thanked the universe for all of the love and support that brought me to that place.

I ran back out to Rt 73, and since I still felt good, I kept running. I ran up all the hills. I ran back into town. I ran past the oval, and I could taste the finish line, now just 14 miles away. I ran up Mirror Lake Dr, which was still lined with crowds of people. I stopped to get my special needs bag. All I took was a bike bottle full of flat energy drink. I chugged it, threw it back in the bag, gave the bag to the volunteer and off I went. I was scanning the faces again looking for Joe and Chuck. I was looking for anyone I knew. I scanned the Team Z tent for my physical therapist, Keri, who I'd seen at the grocery store just a few days before the race. She was the reason I was still running, well her and Ryan. My ITB thanked her with every step I took.

I made the turn around and kept on running, back down Mirror Lake Dr, to Main St, to Rt. 73. My legs were starting to fatigue, but I was worried that midnight was going to catch me if I walked, so I ran. It was getting dark, but I had on a blinking arm band. As the first significant hill of loop 2 rose up in front of me, I wasn't sure I could run it faster than I could walk it, so I walked. It felt really good to walk. As I crested the hill and the terrain flattened a bit, I heard a guy next to me say that he was going to run again. I asked if he minded if I joined him. He welcomed the company.

His name was Ben, and I told him I was scared that I wasn't going to make it by midnight. I was discouraged, because I hadn't seen anyone I knew on the run so far. It felt really lonely to be running out of town, away from the finish line celebration, the sky getting dark, knowing that River Rd and the flood lights were waiting for us. I really wanted to see a friendly face, and Ben turned up right when I needed him.

We chatted about triathlon, since we obviously had that in common. This was not his first Ironman, but he said it was shaping up to be his worst. Ben assured me that we could easily make it in before midnight. We had decided to run four minutes and walk one minute. That quickly became run four and walk four.

Shortly thereafter, as we approached the horse show grounds, I heard Kari's voice screaming my name! I thanked her for my ITB and told her I ran the first 14 miles straight through! She cheered me on. Just after that, I heard Chuck yelling my name. I looked over and there he was in his white trash bag. Joe was walking away from the road, and Chuck yelled for him to come back. They came out onto the course and walked with us. I hugged them both and kissed Joe. I introduced them to Ben.

They walked all the way to River Rd and partway down River Rd. Joe's shoulder was starting to hurt badly, so they turned around. I hugged them good-bye. They said they'd see me at the finish line. I had a lot of miles to cover before I would see them again. Ben and I resumed our walk/run strategy, but my legs and feet were hurting badly. I was tired. I was wet. I wanted it to be over, but I didn't want to quit.

We passed the signs, got through heaven, ate and drank. We walked more than we ran. I only kept running at all because I HAD to finish this race. The sky was completely dark now, and the flood lights were spaced so far from each other that it was difficult to know if there was any ground under your feet until you actually stepped. I was nervous about twisting an ankle or worse. I did not come this far to DNF for any reason.

Ben repeated the old saying about Ironman, "you swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles, run 26.2 miles and brag for the rest of your life." Then he listed off all the things he couldn't wait to do after the race, like get a massage and shower and put on dry clothes and fall in bed. I told him I wanted to write a book about the whole thing. He said that may have been taking things too far, but I explained that I wasn't supposed to be able to do Ironman. According to all of my doctors, I was supposed to be living a life of pain and disability. I was supposed to be reliant on drugs that would kill me slowly, and my only other choice was supposed to be to die as dermatomyositis took my muscles and made them useless.

Instead, I chose to be vegan, to embrace yoga, to love myself, and to become an Ironman. I was spitting in the face of death and disease. I was finding my own answers and making my own road. Ben said that I had a story worth writing. I told him I knew. Now all I needed was an ending worthy of a bestseller.

Somewhere after the turnaround, someone said we'd have to do 20 minute miles to finish under the cutoff. We calculated that we were walking about 15-17 minute miles. I thought that was too close for comfort. Ben wasn't ready to run, so he wished me well as I took off running.

I ran from the turn around on River Rd. back over the mat that the Motivation Station. I read my message and smiled again. I ran until a guy running in front of me stopped to walk. I started talking with him. His name was Dean. He was doing a lot better than I was. We walked and talked for a little while. We ran a little too. As we approached town on Rt 73, he decided to run again. I couldn't do it, so we wished each other a good finish and separated.

Nearly everyone who had been on Rt 73 was gone. The only people I saw were hollow eyed athletes and ever cheerful volunteers at the aid stations. Even the tent with the no walking zone was standing unmanned in the dark. The rain had let up some. It was falling intermittently and only lightly. I almost started to get dry except that I kept having to pee, and there was no way in the world I was stopping and wasting precious minutes.

I climbed the beast of a hill that leads back up to Main St. There were some spectators along the road here, and I think that it was all them that I even made it up the hill. Main remains a slight incline, so I continued to plod. I could barely manage a smile for the spectators anymore. I really just wanted it to be done. I could hear the crowd inside the oval cheering. I could hear the announcer bestowing the title of Ironman on others as they crossed the line. Approximately three miles to go, and I would be there.

Just as I was approaching the right turn onto Mirror Lake Dr, I got passed by Ben! I yelled to him, and he turned and waited for me as I jogged to catch up. He said he'd been making up time by running 10 seconds and walking 10 seconds. We started this together, but walked all the hills, because my legs were just not doing it anymore.

I hadn't eaten in awhile, so Ben had me drink some Coke at the next aid station. I felt a little better, but mentally, I was starting to crumble. Mirror Lake Drive was thick with spectators, as all of the tri clubs had tents along this stretch. It seemed like forever before we reached the turnaround. One mile left to go. I wanted to run the whole thing, but I knew that I couldn't. We walked/ran a little more, and then just walked, very slowly.

My legs were so sore. My feet were both blistered, soaking wet and in so much pain. About a half mile from the finish, I stopped. I was shuffling forward, and I just really wanted to sit. I knew I couldn't. I wanted to cry. I just wanted it to be over. Ben convinced me to keep walking. My dream was so close.

We finally reached Main St. I said, "Let's run!" Ben said that we should walk down the hill to the oval and then run in. I agreed, because at this point downhill felt worse than up. We reached the entrance to the oval. Ben stopped me and said, "You go first. You are a rock star! This is your rock star moment! Take a moment to remember what it took to get here. I don't mean the last year of training. I mean when you were 26 years old and the doctors told you that you were going to die. Now, you're 100 yards away from being an Ironman." I said, "I am, aren't I." I started to cry. I thanked him and I ran.

There was no pain in my feet or legs. There was nothing but me and the oval and the crowd. I heard my name and I saw Joe and Chuck. Chuck clicked a picture of me, and I ran to hug them. I kissed Joe, and I said, "Can you believe this? I'm gonna be an Ironman!" They laughed and hugged me and cheered me on as I ran down the chute. I saw Karen and Kevin and Scott on the other side of the lane cheering me on! I waved and yelled to them!

The white metal fences gave way to ones covered in sponsors advertisements. I rounded the last curve, and just ahead of me was the arch, the race clock, and two volunteers stretching a tape across the finish line. YMCA was blasting on the speakers. I was screaming to no one and to everyone, " Can you believe this? Holy Shit! I'm a mother fuckin' Ironman!"

My legs felt light and strong as they sprinted, but the whole scene is forever etched in my mind in slow motion. I was punching the air and smiling and crying as I ran up the carpeted ramp. The clock read 16:41:36. I felt the tape as my body broke it. I heard the timing device chime as it read my chip, signaling the end of my 140.6 mile journey. And above the music, I heard the announcer proclaim, "Jennifer Tallman, from Burke, Virginia, you are an Ironman!"

Two volunteers caught my arms. A third placed a medal around my neck. They handed me a t-shirt and a hat emblazoned with the coveted M-Dot and the word finisher. They escorted me to the massage tent, where I gave in to my legs pleadings for me to stop. I lay on the table and allowed someone else to move me for a bit. I was told I got the last massage. I'm sorry, Ben, if you didn't get one. You deserved one for sticking with me.

After retrieving my special needs bags, we headed back to the RV, where I slept with my medal around my neck. It's star shaped, and the pointy ends woke me several times, but I was happy to be woken to a reminder of what I had done.

My official finish time was 16:41:38.

I woke early the next morning to be at the merchandise tent in time to buy $500 in finisher/M-Dot gear. I haven't worn anything but Ironman clothing since the race, and I don't plan on it for at least another week.

My exuberant finish was featured in a video at the awards banquet the next night, where Kyle was awarded 3rd in the Clydesdale division, and Scott was awarded 2nd in the 40-44 age group. It was a proud day for the RATS!

The drive home was long, as Joe and I got a late start. A long breakfast overlooking Mirror Lake and a strong desire to remain there to recover and reflect were to blame.

When I finally did arrive home, I was greeted by three signs leading into my neighborhood. The first read, " Jennifer Tallman" The second, " You are" Then third, "An Ironman!" When I got to my house. My mom had placed two signs on my front door. One read 140.6 and the other was an M-Dot. My lawn had been spray painted with a bright red M-Dot that was about 5' X 5'! The sign that Chuck had used in NY was also taped to my front door. I read the card he'd left, and I cried yet again.

Ironman showed me so much about the people that surround me. Maybe I inspire them, but I could not have done this without them. Thanks to my mom who helps me out when day to day tasks take a backseat to my training. Thanks to my friends, especially Eileen, who see less and less of me as my races draw nearer. Thanks to everyone who listens to me talk insessantly about triathlon, racing, training, equipment, nutrition. Thanks to my sangha for sending positive energy my way. Thanks to my club, the RATS, for being so inspiring, taking me under your wings and giving me encouragement to grow in the sport. Thanks to my coach, Ryan, who laid out a perfect path to get me across the finish line. Thanks to Chuck for making the drive up to Placid to cheer me on. Thanks to Joe for sacrificing your comfort to stand in the rain with your broken collarbone and surgical wound to be there at the finish line. Thanks to my sister, Maggy for believing in me. Thanks to Ben for being in the right places at the right times on the course that day. Thanks to the universe for sending all of this support so that I could reach my goal.

I wish that I could give each and every one of you a medal for all you did to get me to mine. A little piece of this belongs to all of you.