I had done it! I had crossed the finish line. I had accomplished my goal of finishing an Ironman before aging up to the big girls league. I can’t help but to smile when I think about it even now, a month after the fact.
….After crossing the finish line, a volunteer immediately grabbed ahold of me to walk me through the finishers chute. She kept asking “Are you alright?! Are you alright?!” All I could think to say was “Yes, can someone please take my shoes off??” I was tired and hungry but thankfully all that hurt on me was my extremely swollen feet. I guess I looked worse than I felt?! Regardless, I made it through the line, had a medal put around my neck, was given a finishers shirt, and someone eventually helped me take my shoes off. Then it was time for pizza and pepsi.
My family met me just outside of the finishers area for hugs and pictures. Y’all they must really love me to hug me at this point… I was gross! Pretty sure my hair could have stood straight up without any products!!
Once the pictures were done and Dad had taken care of getting all my gear to the right places, mainly Stanley back to TriBike Transport we grabbed a cab to head back to the hotel so I could have my much deserved beer! Priorities right?! Before the race that was what I had told my brother I wanted at the finish line.
Upon arriving back at the hotel, having about three sips of my beer, half a hot dog, and maybe half a margarita, I was done for the night. Unfortunately I was too restless to get much sleep but it sure did feel good to lay down and be clean.
The next day, for as good as I felt at the finish line, I was exhausted so naturally drinks and naps on the beach were most of the day’s work.
By evening, it was time to pack our bags and check out of the hotel before heading to the slot allocation and the awards ceremony. Going into this race, my age group was slotted for two Ironman World Championships slots, aka two slots to Kona, Hawaii!!
Upon arriving at the very disorganized slot allocation, we got the pleasure of standing on line with some of my previous day’s competitors. It was interesting to hear everyone talk about their race experience; everyone had very different thoughts and experiences on the race course. Finally the doors were opened and we took our seats in a big open air pavilion.
I had finished 2nd in my age group so I knew there was a chance I was headed to Kona. I also knew that only a few people from my age group toed the line the previous day so there was also a chance that I may not be. Regardless, I was ready if the opportunity came my way!
Lucky for me, being the youngest age group, I quickly got my answer to the lingering question….
Unfortunately it wasn’t the answer I was looking for, I wasn’t going to be packing my bags for Hawaii this coming October as the final slot allocation only gave the 18-24 year old females one. However, I couldn’t be mad, the girl that edged me out absolutely killed it and I did get to step up on the podium and was handed a huge m-dot trophy. That was pretty awesome!
Worst part of this trophy was that it weighed about 10lbs and I had to carry it for the remainder of that evening on the ferry and in the long cab ride to the hotel in Cancun by the airport. Then after a quick nights sleep, it was time to continue the travel the rest of the way back to Charlotte. Lots of congratulations came my way while carrying it which made the trophy a little more fun to be carrying the large piece of wood all day long.
Finally after an exhausting trip, we had made it back to the Queen City. The city in which made it so I was now officially in recovery mode for atleast a couple of weeks.
Transition 2 – A welcomed separation from Stanley. Although we are buds, 7hrs got the best of us. He was handed off to a volunteer to go rack and I grabbed my run bag and headed into the changing tent. Applied a little more body glide and sunscreen, switched out my shoes, and I was on my way, 5:12 later.
Run — It felt so good to walk that I took the first 20-30yards to just walk and stretch out my legs before finding my stride. Similar to the bike, it was a three loop course that consisted of running down the street away from the finish line a little over 4 miles then running back towards the finish line a little over 4miles. It sounds like a boring course but for an ironman when you want support, it was great! And my family took full advantage of this; they spread out over the 4 mile stretch to cheer me on the entire way. The course was relatively flat with a few gradual hills. The best part of the course, aside from the spectators, was that the aid stations were every kilometer (.6 miles). Something about them being every kilometer made them that much easier to stay focused and running in between them.
Lap 1…Sun high and still hot!
I was able to keep that focus and get through 10miles strong, just walking though the aid stations. At about mile 11, I started to struggle a little bit. I was STARVING!! And I couldn’t stomach any more Gu or gummies so I had to turn to the food on the course to get me through. From mile 11 – 16, the aid stations became Kathryn feeding stations. Pretzels and peanuts did the trick. During this time, my walks through the aid stations became a little more leisurely and my focus in between stations had dwindled. I was running 2min, walking 30seconds. Alex even briefly walked with me during this, I’m pitiful, I’m going to starve stretch. Eventually, I was able to build back up to about a 3-4min run 30sec walk.
By mile 17 I had found my stride again and was moving pretty good. Still keeping to about 3min run, 30sec walk. Somewhere close to this point, maybe a little before, I passed my mom and I told her “I got this.” My strong stride continued though mile 20, a 10k to go. Although my legs were doing okay, I was just all over getting tired and losing focus.
This is when I took a new approach and really started playing the mind game. The street was divided with cones so I took to counting cones. This was entertaining because they weren’t evenly spread out. I would run 10 cones then walk 2. This mind game plus a little encouragement from the guys from England I met during bike drop off worked till about a mile to go. Funny thing is, I am sure people thought I was some kind of crazy chick out there, I was counting out loud for all to hear. I didn’t realize it for the longest time though; I was just focused on my cones.
With a mile to go, it felt like I picked it up and was killing it to the finish line but really, that wasn’t quite the case at all. Regardless, I felt strong and I was determined to get there. The smile was still plastered on my face like it had been all day and I could feel my heart beating in my chest, I was about to be an Ironman!
Coming back up the street towards the finish line, I got to stay to the right at the split, as opposed to the left like I had the last two times. I could hear the cheering crowd and the announcer over the loud speakers. I was close. As I made the split, I spotted my parents straight ahead. I bee lined it for them, high fives all around before making my way up the ramp for the final stretch to the finish line. My hands held high, tears in my eyes; I was steps away from being an IRONMAN!!
There was this huge sense of relief that rushed through my body as I crossed that finish line. It was unreal. I, Kathryn Leach, was officially an IRONMAN!!! Although, I felt confident all day, even during my low points, I had now, really done it! I had completed the 2.4mile swim, the 112mile bike ride, and the 26.2mile run with time to spare before the cut offs.
My run time was 4:48:31, making total time for the day, 13:20:51!!
Swim – 7am the pro division heads into the water, that was my 30min till go time mark. I lined up with the 1:20 – 1:30 wave since it was a rolling start as opposed to the normal mass start of an Ironman event. Little did we know that 7:30 start would quickly turn into a 7:45, almost 8 o’clock start time. The announcer wasn’t doing a great job of keeping the athletes or the spectators informed and you could sense the frustration amongst the athletes as we stood waiting. Turns out the dock broke, luckily no one was hurt but it made it so they were only allowing about 4 people to start at a time. And what was supposed to be a ramp into the water turned into a jump in the roughly 4 feet of water. I fortunately didn’t have any issues but I did hear of others complaining about hitting their feet hard on the bottom and jarring themselves a bit.
Immediately into the swim I had a little bit of a panic. All along, I was told the swim was with the current but I felt like I wasn’t going anywhere. I kept thinking to myself, if this is with the current, I am in trouble!! This went on for about the first 10(ish) minutes before making a slight turn around the island to where you could feel the difference. Immediately, the swim got easier and you were able to watch the fish swim below you and cruise…. Kind of like an intense snorkeling session. 😉 This went on for a while before the seaweed and jellyfish became a bit of an issue. The seaweed was more so gross but the jellyfish (which you couldn’t actually see) did become a problem. I ended up being stung twice. Lucky for me neither was bad but still irritating (and still scarring…literally) nonetheless. By about the last 15min of the swim, even though I was feeling good, I was about over the salt water. I happily welcomed the swim exit. I ended up finishing the swim in 1:17:00.
Transition 1 – It felt so good to be on land and to run through some fresh, NON SALTY, water. This was the first place I saw my team, Team Kat! Remember how I said my family had an awesome surprise for me the night before the race, well they made Team Kat shirts to support me! They were easy to pick out and I welcomed their smiling faces on the dock. After passing them, I grabbed my transition bag and headed for the changing tent. Y’all, take my word for it, if you’re doing an Ironman in salt water, change your clothes, you won’t regret it, plus it only takes about 2min! I wore my speed suit with a swimsuit underneath then changed into my tri kit for the rest of the day. It felt so good to start in dry, non-salty clothes for the 112mile bike ride. Another piece of advice, take advantage of the help the volunteers are willing to give you. As soon as I walked into the tent they had water in hand and were rinsing off my sandy feet then were quickly helping spray my sunscreen on my back. Thank you Thank you Thank you volunteers! Then it was an easy jog to my man Stanley and out the bike exit as I waved to Team Kat. Total time, 9:53.
Bike – The longest part of the day. Initially I felt a little iffy. My legs were great but all the salt water and the waves during the swim had my stomach a little uneasy. I drank a fair amount of water and Gatorade in those first few miles and quickly came back to life. The bike course was a three loop course that could easily be divided up into 4 sections. The first part, the long never ending straight, flat part. This section felt like it went on forever but you could cruise. It was well protected from the sun and wind. Part two, the windy, slightly uphill, sunny section. And calling it the windy section might be a bit of an understatement; I should really call it tornado ally. The wind was something between a head and cross wind coming off of the ocean. It was beautiful but lets just say it was a success to keep moving above about 12mph. The next section was the tail wind. Coming out tornado ally this was welcomed. Easy to gain some extra speed and allow your legs to recover a bit from the last torturous hour in part two. Part four was the fun section. This part went through downtown Cozumel and was lined with loud, cheering spectators. Also this was slightly downhill and with the wind still at your back, by far my favorite section of the course.
Lap one, after getting over my uneasy stomach was smooth sailing. I was on top of my fuel, drinking plenty of fluids and cruising. I am pretty sure I had a huge smile on my face the entire way.
And there she goes! Smiling past papa bear!
Happy Papa Bear!
Lap two, was a little more tough, the winds in tornado ally had picked up slightly and the sun was high and hot. This lap took a little out of me and I struggled with my fuel for about an hour, but overall, another strong lap with one big exception. There was a FIRE on the course in part three. A building had caught on fire and there was a huge black cloud of smoke that we had to ride through. Before entering the cloud I took a big breath and held my breath till I got through to the other side. Obviously, not ideal, but it didn’t end up being as bad as it could have been. And major plus…. Team Kat was everywhere on this lap! They were racing me on their mopeds!
Thanks Team! High Fives all around!!
Lap three, at the start of part one, I made my first and only potty stop for the day. It felt so good to get off the bike that I almost didn’t want to get back on again but I knew I had a goal to get across that finish line so I hopped back on and got going. I did great through part one but tornado ally did get me. I remember looking down at my watch shortly after making the turn to tornado ally and seeing that I was only going 11mph. It was so defeating. I felt like I was working soooo hard but was hardly moving. This section was a little over 13miles, so I knew I had at least an hour to push through. Obviously, I wasn’t the only one with those same defeating thoughts though. As I passed one man, he jokingly (but totally dead serious) said, “Will someone please turn off the wind?!” Finally, I made it through the ally and was on my way to the nice tail wind. The tail wind was great but by now, my neck and shoulder were hurting pretty badly making it tough to stay tucked in aero position. This was annoying but overall, no big deal. Thankfully the smoke had cleared on part three and I had clear visual of the city ahead. I knew the city meant ditching he bike and heading for the running shoes, something I happily welcomed!
At least it was BEAUTIFUL!
Total time on the bike: 7:00:15. I was 8:27 into my ironman journey.
I know I know I know….it has taken me forever to get this series (yes, it is a series) posted! This was such a big event that it has made it hard to wrap my mind around it to write about… so here it goes!
What an overwhelmingly amazing experience. Becoming an ironman is unlike any other experience I have ever had. I think its because of all the many months of training that lead to this one day, that no matter how conditioned you are, you never really know if you will make it across that finish line. A million things can happen from jellyfish stings, to bike malfunctions, to unbearable weather conditions over those 140.6miles. Some of these bumps are inevitable to happen and most you are able to overcome but at the end of the day, you just never know what the outcome will be. All I can say is coming out of this race, crossing the finish line, feeling good and all in one piece, I feel blessed.
Before I get too far ahead of myself though; let me back up a bit to give the whole recap on my Ironman experience….
Wednesday — Mom, Dad, Alex, and I got up bright and early for a day of travel. First stop the Charlotte airport, then the Atlanta airport, and then the Cancun airport. You’d think we would be done traveling by then, but no, the fun had just begun. Once arriving in the Cancun airport, going through customs, and picking up our luggage….which I should really rephrase as my luggage with a few pieces of clothing for everyone else (dang there is a lot of gear for this silly sport), we were off to stand in a giant line to take a taxi to Playa de Carmen. This was about an hour ride where I was sure I would get sick as the driver zipped through the streets of Mexico. Once there, I completely understood why everyone told me to send my bike with TriBike Transport, we had to lug all of our bags through the cobblestone streets, wait in another line, and then take a ferryboat to Cozumel. I felt bad for all those who were trying to pull their massive bike boxes and load them onto the boat. You could see the fear in their eyes as their bikes were passed over the water onto the boat as the ocean was super rough that day. I will say though, this is when the Ironman became real for me. Seeing all the Ironman tattoos and bike boxes made the event become a reality. Finally, after a nauseating boat ride to Cozumel and a quick taxi ride to the hotel, we had made it! Only a mere 14 hours of travel!!!
Thursday – Happy Thanksgiving! It certainly didn’t feel like Thanksgiving but it was a nice and relaxing day to recover from the previous day of travel. I did get in a short run followed by a quick swim in the beautiful blue water. It was so cool to be able to see the ocean floor and all the fish swimming about. Then a few hours on the beach (in the shade with 50spf on of course) and we were ready to watch the Panthers game. Yes, in Mexico, the crazy people from Dallas and my family did find a way to get the game projected on a wall of one of the bars at the hotel. The night closed with a traditional Mexican buffet and show.
Friday – The Ironman crazy festivities began. First thing was swim practice. They opened up the end of the swim course for all the athletes to get a feel for what race day would be like. It was really cool to meet so many other athletes who were also about to embark on this big adventure. You could quickly distinguish between the seasoned athletes and the newbies.
Next stop was packet pick-up. Here was the first time I realized that the language barrier was going to be a real thing. Going through the lines trying to communicate was quite the challenge. Also, since you cannot fly with the CO2 cartridges (used in the case that you get a flat on race day), my dad and I were on the hunt to find those at expo. We did manage to find them but then the question of where to pick up my bike became our next struggle. My bike, Mister Stanley, was only a couple blocks away but finding someone who spoke English to communicate that to us was nothing short of a miracle. Once finding the TriBike Transport bike lot, we headed back to the hotel for the remainder of the day where I was able to get in quick bike tune up and go for a smooth 10mile ride.
Saturday – Busy busy busy! I got up early to get in a quick brick workout. 20min on the bike followed by a 10min run. Then I packed up all my transition and special needs bags for the next day, had a good, hearty breakfast, and jumped on my bike again to go deliver all my gear for the next day. The ride to transition 1 was the moment I realized I was really going to do this. As I took the 2mile ride nice and easy, soaking up the beautiful views along the ocean all I could think about was how awesome, it was going to be to see that finish line and hear my name, “KATHRYN LEACH, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN” the next day.
Transition 1 was hectic to say the least but I was very impressed with the security. When you first got there, you were corralled to where you got your first piece of body marking done then they took a picture of everyone with their number and bike, then you individually went to another station where they recorded your number and a description of your bike before they let you into the bike drop area. Once in the most massive transition I have ever seen it was time to find my bike spot. It was exciting to see my name and USA on the spot reserved for Stanley surrounded by a multitude of people from other countries. After racking my bike, I hung my transition bag with all the others and continued on with more body marking and a quick walk down to the water where I met a couple guys from England who where about to take on their first ever triathlon!!! They were funny but you could sense their nerves, they were asking tons of questions and definitely got my confidence up a bit since I had some answers for once (HAHA).
Next, it was time to head to transition 2, in downtown. I hopped on a bus and was there in no time. I dropped my bag, saw where the changing tents and run out would be, and walked past the finish line. All I could think about as I saw the bleachers and massive finish line was OMG THIS IS REALLY HAPPENING! After aimlessly wondering the city for what seemed to be forever to find the bus again, I managed to find the hotel where the busses picked up and headed back towards my hotel. I was officially all checked in and ready to race the next day.
Finally a little R&R on the beach before the night closed with a moped pick-up and an early dinner before and a super awesome surprise from my family.
Sunday – The day to become an IRONMAN!!! That 4:30 alarm sounded and I was quickly awaken… well, lets be real, I was awake almost all night anyways so I happily welcomed the alarm saying that, YES YOU CAN FINALLY GET UP NOW. First thing I saw when walking into the bathroom was a sweet, pump up note from my brother. I couldn’t help by smile since I could really sense how excited he was for me. Then it was time to choke down breakfast. I don’t know about you but eating a substantial amount of calories at what seems like the middle of the night is rough. The pump up music Alex was playing (Yes, we were jamming at 4:30 in the morning) and all the sweet messages from friends and family made it a little easier though. Before I knew it, 5am had rolled around and it was time to hit the road via moped to transition 1. Alex and I giggled a little as we were driving this little scooter through the dark, rainy morning.
Once arriving at T1, I got Stanley ready and did one final walk through before loading the bus to head to the start line. While in line for the bus, I met a nice girl from New York. This was her second Ironman and she was looking for redemption. We rode the bus together and she told me all about her first Ironman experience. I loved hearing all about it as it got me that much more excited for the gun to go off. By the time I stepped off the bus, the sun was finally starting to rise.
Stepping off the bus there was this sense of calm. It was almost only athletes at the start, very few spectators due to logistics of the race. People were dropping there morning clothes, eating a last minute snack, and helping one another apply sunscreen and body glide, as well as zip each other into our respective speed suits. This is when you could really feel the community of the sport. Everyone was happy and ready to help cheer each other on to having a great race.