I consciously tried to start out slow on the run. I had read far too many Ironman race reports where the athlete gets excited, goes out too fast on the run (feeling great!), and then crashes around mile 10. I had practiced this pace off the bike, and I was going to go out slow. The marathon course was three out-and-backs that were a little over 8.5 miles each. The thought of three laps was overwhelming, so I remembered my dad’s advice from the day before—I didn’t have to run the second and third laps until I got there. I tried to focus on nothing beyond keeping my pace around 10:00/mile.
The heat of the day didn’t bother me until I started the run. On the bike, the wind plus the faster speed kept me plenty cool. However, on the run, the 90° weather made a difference. I was warm from the start and made the good decision to carry a water bottle from my transition bag with me throughout the first miles of the run so I could sip on it and douse myself with it when needed. By the time I reached the first aid station, I was already soaked. It was undoubtedly hot out, but I reminded myself that I had trained in the heat and was prepared for it.
During the first lap, I just focused on eating regularly and keeping my body cool. I ate some ProBar chews every twenty minutes or so and tried to drink water and a little cola or Gatorade from the aid stations. During the first lap, I just focused on eating regularly and keeping my body cool. I stuffed ice in my tri top and poured water on my head at every aid station. The run course was populated by plenty of athletes, and the crowd support was amazing. There were several groups of residents outside their homes offering to spray triathletes with their hoses. My pace was consistently right around or even a little faster than 10:00/mile. I felt surprisingly strong and did my best to find other athletes to run and chat with. No one “stuck,” but I did get to meet a few people, most of whom mentioned how brutal the bike course was. I was a little surprised as this theme emerged, and I started to realize how bad the wind had been. I had dealt with it so well (for me) that I hadn’t realized how many athletes it had broken out there.
As I approached the end of my first lap, I ran by Rob and my parents, all cheering like maniacs. I reported that I felt strong. Athletes had the option of accessing their run special needs bag either after the first lap or after the second. Because I wasn’t struggling, I opted to skip it on the first time around. As I ran through one particular aid station early on in lap two, I suddenly heard someone cheering for me, completely all-out. “GO KTP GO!!!” I grinned and may have mustered a wave. A former teammate from college was running an aid station and had spotted me running through. It offered a surprisingly big mental boost. As I approached the turn-around in the second lap, I started feeling the telltale signs of approaching stomach issues. I felt bloated, like the things I had been eating were just sitting there fermenting in my gut. I made the decision to cut back on my nutrition a bit to (hopefully) save myself from a time-consuming bathroom stop.
I hit the halfway point and felt okay, but running was getting harder and harder, and my pace was slowing a bit. I had a hard time thinking about doing another 13.1 miles, so I just focused on getting back into town and finishing the second lap. The wind had died down after blowing in the cooler weather (and bringing in some smoke to block the sun a bit). I stopped dousing myself in water because it wasn’t necessary any more.
Finally, I approached town again for another dose of crowd support. Rob and my parents cheered me on, as usual, but I was much less dapper this time around. After my first lap, it hadn’t been tough emotionally to follow the sign to lap two instead of the sign to the finish. However, turning for lap three instead of the finish was rough, especially since I heard the announcer call out an athlete’s finish just as I was approaching the turn-off.
I approached the special needs bags again, but I decided not to stop. First of all, I had all the food I needed out on the course. I was still workout through my Probar chews, and they had Cliff Bar shot blocks (chews) out on the course if I needed them. Secondly, I was a little worried that if I stopped, I wouldn’t be able to get started again.
Heading out of town was tough, and I was close to descending into a dark place. The thought of eight more miles was almost impossible to imagine. So I didn’t. I thought about getting to that next mile marker. I had been watching my time throughout the run and calculating just how slowly I could do the remaining miles while still hitting my sub-13 goal. By the time I started my third lap, I had built up enough of a buffer that I could run 13 minute miles and still finish in under my goal time. I knew that my current run pace would allow me to walk the aid stations and still hit that pace, but I was in a groove (a difficult one, but a groove nonetheless), and I was worried that if I stopped to walk, I wouldn’t be able to get going again.
During the third lap, I was running through a field of walkers. I was passed by a few runners (and passed a few of my own), but the vast majority of people on the course were walking. Without many people to keep in my sights or pace off of, I felt a bit like I was running alone, despite the sea of people surrounding me. I didn’t let myself think about a particular mile marker until I reached the one before it. I knew that, as long as I kept running, I would likely stay under an 11:00/mile pace and would smash my goal time. So, one mile at a time, I forced my body to keep running. Any time negative thoughts started to creep in, I slammed the door in their faces and returned my focus to the feeling of my feet hitting the pavement.
Each mile felt like it took forever, but slowly… ever so slowly… the miles ticked by.
19, 20, 21, 22…
I tried to remember the first two laps when I’d see those third-lap mile markers and felt like I would never, ever reach the third lap where they would be applicable to me. But there I was.
Just keep running. Just keep running.
At this point in the race, I had retreated deep within myself. I managed some smiles and nods when I heard someone cheering me on by name, and I think I was still thanking the volunteers that handed me water and orange slices (blessed orange slices!) at the aid stations. But I wasn’t thinking anything besides, “Keep running” and “How long until the next mile marker?” The finish line was so close, but I didn’t let myself think about it yet. I had to think about where I was and not where I was going.
It wasn’t until I hit the 25 mile marker that I knew I had it. Just a little more pain, and I would be an Ironman.
I ran through the park where my family had been throughout the entire marathon. They weren’t there, and I knew they were at the finish line waiting for me.
I approached the turn-off, where you go right for laps 2 and 3 and left for the finish. I moved over to the left of the path, and everyone in the area started cheering.
I got a big, goofy grin on my face as I followed the signs to the finishing stretch, people cheering me by name the whole way.
As I made the turn and saw the finish line ahead of me, I looked over and saw Rob cheering. I ran over and grabbed his hand for a moment before running towards the finish line. On the way, I gave countless high fives to spectators and two more special high fives to my mom and to my dad. Running felt effortless, and every ounce of pain I had accumulated over the past 140 miles had evaporated.
When I crossed the finish line, I heard the announcer shout, “Katie Pridgen from Murray, UT…” I didn’t even need to hear the “You are an Ironman!” part. Grinning from ear to ear, I ran into the middle of a group of volunteers. They took my timing chip and gave me a medal and a finisher’s t-shirt in return. A good trade!
Rob and my parents were waiting for me outside the finisher’s chute, and the first thing I did when I joined them was sit down on the grass and take my shoes off. For the first glorious time in over ten hours, I was able to take my shoes off and keep them off.
For the first fifteen minutes or so, I felt great. I couldn’t stop smiling and chatting with my support crew who had spent their entire weekend doting on me. I was still wearing the rubber bracelet that was meant to be given to a volunteer, so I gave it to my dad. During my entire training cycle, he was there to chat with and bounce ideas off of. He’s been a huge support of my athletic pursuits from the time I was a kid, so I felt it was only appropriate to give the bracelet to him. I couldn’t believe how wonderful I felt, and I actually started to wonder if I had, somehow, not gone hard enough out on the course.
Soon, though, I started to get cold. I was still wet from pouring water on myself during the first half of the run, but now it was cooler and I was no longer exerting myself. I went to the medical tent and grabbed a space blanket. I laid down on the grass and was just starting to fall asleep (I’m sure I would have been right as rain after a 10-15 minute power nap) when a medical volunteer came over and told me I should go to the medical tent.
Thus began my medical tent adventure.
They had me lie down on a relatively uncomfortable lawn chair. They didn’t take my pulse or blood pressure or do any examinations other than periodically waking me up when I was just about to fall asleep. Eventually, I had had enough, so I left and promptly almost passed out. This was the only portion of the event where I didn’t feel completely taken care of by the volunteers. When I almost passed out, they led me back into the tent where I sat there doing nothing again.
I needed to be replenished, but remember those stomach issues that I held off during the race? They came to fruition, and after one near-emergency bathroom visit, I knew that if I ate anything, I’d have to rush to the bathroom again. And since I couldn’t get up without passing out, that wasn’t going to happen. About an hour and a half later, my dad had convinced a volunteer to let him drive through the barricades into the parking lot where the medical tent was located so that I could, with some support, make it back to the car.
I would have loved to stay for the midnight finishers, but I just wasn’t physically up for it. At least if I had any doubts that I had pushed myself to the limit, they were dispelled with my post-race struggles. Somehow, even feeling terrible and ending up being held hostage by medical volunteers didn’t diminish the Ironman experience. I still grinned the whole way back to the home where we were staying. I ended up feeling a little better after relaxing a bit, showering, and finally getting some food in me and was able to join my support crew in a little birthday celebration for my mom (who, by the way, spent her entire birthday in the hot sun, cheering on her lunatic daughter!).
As for the Ironman afterglow? It finally started to wear off after a few days (and I finally stopped wearing my medal whenever I wasn’t in public). But it still hits me now and again. I’m an Ironman! I’m incredibly proud at how well I executed my first (and only) Ironman. I meted out my effort almost perfectly. I beat my goal time by almost thirty minutes. I had a strong mental attitude the entire time and, looking at the pictures, I had a smile for a large portion of the race as well.
Really, it doesn’t get much better than that.