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.
To be continued….