WARNING: You may need a beverage in hand for this one…. It’s a long one!
And the alarm goes off. Hmmm 3:45. Awesome. Well the good news is I was out solid all through the night and I did manage to fall asleep at a reasonable hour. Oh and getting out of bed was made a little easier when I thought about what the day held. This was it. I have been training since March. Yes, it is now July 28th. I have had endless days of multiple workouts and early wakeup calls. Actually, I woke up earlier than this before to train in Orlando, so actually this isn’t too bad 😉
I had done a pretty good job of having everything for the morning prepared so that there was minimal things to think about. Of course, for the things that were left to do that I needed to remember, there was a list for that! My bike and gear bags were already in transition. I needed to take with me my bike pump to top off my tires, bike special needs bag, run special needs bag, morning clothes bag which would have my clothes for after the race as well, all of my stuff for the swim including my wetsuit, and my bottles filled for my bike to place in the holders. I put on my first set of race clothes that I planned to wear for the swim, my Garmin watch, my road ID, and my timing chip with a pair of flip flops. My family did a pretty good job of hustling to get ready as well before we all hopped in the car.
We had a quick drive to one of the parking lots where we would then take an even quicker bus ride down the hill to where all of the action for the day would be. When we got to the parking lot there was plenty of volunteers directing us where to park. It was still dark outside so we were guided by flashlights. I gathered all of my stuff and we hopped on the bus with other athletes and spectators. As we were getting on the bus it started to sprinkle. Hmmm well, this should be interesting I thought to myself. When we got off the bus I said good bye to my parents as they went to head over to the swim location to get a spot to spectate from. I told them I would see them once I dropped my stuff off in transition, etc.
I headed over to transition just to learn that I had to go back on Main Street to get body marked first. I waited in a line of a couple people for a nice young lady to body mark me. She had super nice penmanship which is always a requirement for me! As I was waiting to be body marked I looked around me at all of the tired straight faces of all of the athletes. We all pretty much shared the same look. Once I got body marked I headed into transition to my bike. I pumped my tires to 120 psi one last time and put my bike bottles on the bike. I also realized that the sprinkling had stopped. Yay! I knew that rain was a real possibility for the day given the forecast. They called for temps in the low 70’s and scattered thunderstorms with an 80% chance of rain. If I rewind to Syracuse 70.3 when they called the race early due to thunderstorms, I couldn’t help but pray that the same wouldn’t happen today. My first triathlon we didn’t swim. My first half Ironman we didn’t swim. I was not ready to not be called an Ironman at the end of today because of Mother Nature. I was worried about rain on the bike course because of the steep fast descent into Keene. This would be even scarier on a wet road. I told myself that if it rained on the run, so be it, but just not thunderstorms so that the race would be cancelled. But again, I knew I had no control over this and I needed to focus on what I could control. With this is mind, I headed out of transition once I dropped my morning clothes bag off next to my other bags that were already there (run and bike).
I walked out of transition and met Jason at the meeting spot we has agreed to (thank goodness because there was so many people). At this point he had found my friend Matt. We walked over towards Mirror Lake Drive to find the bike special needs drop off bag. The volunteers were awesome in helping to facilitate and direct all of the morning activities. I handed my bag over and hoped that soon enough I would see it again. We then retraced our steps and headed further out on Mirror Lake Drive to drop off my run special needs bag. This was a bit further of a walk and this whole process of dropping off bags really took much longer than I had thought. I looked over to the swim area and already saw so many athletes in the water warming up with their wetsuits on. I was still a good distance from the area and carrying my wetsuit. Suddenly I felt behind. Once we reached the athlete split off I kissed Jason good bye and told him I loved him in case I couldn’t find him again before the start. At this point I had no idea where my parents were.
I started to eat my bagel and peanut butter realizing that it was already a bit later then I had hoped. Once I finished that I quickly put on my wetsuit, sunscreen, and body glide. I then realized I still had a bag of stuff and nowhere to put it. Shoot. I looked around for Jason and couldn’t find him. I asked some nice lady to borrow her phone so I could call Jason and have him meet me, which he did. It was also nice to see him one more time as nerves were really starting to kick in. I then heard them announce they were starting to move people out of the water and into the swim corrals. Sh*t! Time to get out of the water? I didn’t even get in yet! Now I am officially panicking and pushing my way through hundreds of people so that I can literally run into the water quick. I didn’t want to swim, but I wanted the water to get into my wetsuit so that my body could adjust to the temperature. I had went with my sleeveless wetsuit to wear after the debacle at Syracuse 70.3 and feeling claustrophobic with my full wetsuit. I knew that I needed to get my arms wet and feel the water to feel comfortable. I made in quickly as I continued to keep fueling with a package of Honey Stinger chews. The majority of my fuel for the day was Honey Stinger products. I no sooner got in the water, and got back out again. It was time to head over to my coral but first I was missing something.
I couldn’t start this race without saying goodbye to my parents and they were nowhere to be found. I again asked a random spectator to use their phone so I could text them. As I started writing the text all of the emotions that I had been controlling for days suddenly just all hit me all at once like a ton of bricks. As I wrote the text I wanted my parents to know that I loved them in case anything had happened. I’m a realist. I know that people die at triathlons, I have witnessed it first hand. While I have never let it stop me from doing them (I’d rather die doing something I love than the million other worst ways that people die), I still know that it’s real. Suddenly I found myself in tears writing the text. Partly knowing that there was a chance it could be a last goodbye but more so because I wished I had got to see them in person and say goodbye before starting the race. But at this point it was what it was. The spectators with me saw me get emotional and tried to comfort me. Another spectator wanted to take a picture of me to send to my mom, so she did. So great, as if my mom wasn’t already worried about me doing this (which I knew she was), now she’s going to get a picture of me crying looking scared to death. Nonetheless I felt better knowing that I had gotten to communicate with them. I thanked the spectators and went to get in line.
It was now time to focus. Time to focus on my training. I am ready for this I told myself. With the new rolling start this year I had decided to put myself in the front of 1:30-1:45 corral. I had planned on swimming around a 1:30 and I wanted to be around those with similar paces to try and reduce getting swam over and kicked, etc. After getting in my corral it wasn’t long before the pros were off! It was about 15 minutes after the pros started before I made my way to the swim entrance and over the timing mat. This was it. 140.6 – Here I come! As I walked over the timing mat and entered the water I looked left and was able to spot Jason and Matt as well as both of my parents! Everyone was cheering and smiling and having them there to support me meant more then they will ever know. I slowly walked my way into the water a bit until the water was up to my shoulders and then it was go time. I put my face into the water and started to swim. It was a bit congested in the beginning but honestly it really wasn’t that bad. I’ve been at other swim starts that were way worse. I officially became a fan of the rolling swim, self-seeded swim start. I started a bit to the outside of the buoys but found myself making my way to the line. I had heard over and over again to stay away from the cord because it gets congested, but it was just so nice to not have to spot and I felt really comfortable. Stroke after stroke I just took the race one buoy at a time. One thing I did learn quickly from staying on the string was that this resulted in you coming head on with the giant buoys if you didn’t veer slightly off. I ended up taking a couple to the face but they really weren’t bad – just a bit of a wakeup call.
We had 9 yellow buoys going out before hitting a red buoy to indicate the turn. There was then maybe 100m before the next red turn buoy to start heading back. The way back had I believe 9 yellow buoys before hitting another red buoy to indicate a slight turn around the dock to head to the swim exit. Ion the first loop of the swim I truly had one of the calmest most uneventful swims I’ve ever had and I was really enjoying it. There were a couple of times it go congested and I just crossed the line and swam on the inside for a few minutes until people passed by. This happened a bit more towards the end of my first lap as some of the faster swimmers were already coming around to complete their second lap since they had started much sooner. I was a bit jealous to think that they were completing lap two before I even completed lap one. But I didn’t let that bother me and I stuck to my race plan – calm and steady. Before I knew it I was headed towards the swim exit from lap one and I could hear Mike Reilly’s voice over the microphone cheering people on. Hearing his voice brought so many thoughts to my head and it was easy to get emotional. Again, I kept telling myself to stay focused on the moment that was in front of me. I swam as far as I could to the swim exit before standing up to walk out the remainder of the water to the beach. It was amazing to hear all of the fans cheering us on. The night before we had discussed me making a signal by forming a heart with my arms over my head as I got out of the water so it would be easier for people to spot me. Well, it worked because I was able to see my parents when I got out of the water! I was so glad to see them for those few feet that I walked along the beach before reentering the water for lap two. I looked around quick but couldn’t find Jason. I headed back under the inflatable swim start to get back in the water and could hear Jason screaming my name. I looked around back in the crowd but couldn’t see him anywhere. He continued to scream my name but again, I couldn’t find him. Then I turned my head and there was Jason – right next to me in the water standing with water up to his shorts! I was so happy and all smiles! He snapped a few pictures and I told him I loved him and then it was face in the water for lap two.
For lap two I knew exactly what to expect from having completed lap one. I felt really good. I wasn’t tired and I was ready to get this swim done! I went back to focusing on one stroke at a time and one buoy at a time. The second lap was even calmer than the first lap as people were even more spread out by now. I felt good on the way out. On the way back I started to feel my arms getting a bit sore, nothing extreme but just sore. I wasn’t really surprised. 2.4 miles of swimming is A LOT of strokes. I have tiny bird arms. But I knew those arms could do it. On the way back I decided to try and speed up my stroke a bit knowing that I was on the homestretch. I later learned how apparently this really wasn’t true as my first loop was actually faster than my second loop despite me thinking and feeling the exact opposite. I guess I really was tired. Both of my swim loops were just under what I had predicted which I was thrilled about. I will say though on the second loop the buoys felt further apart although obviously that wasn’t true.
Soon enough though I was back to being able to hear Mike Reilly’s voice and I knew I was almost there. I headed in to the inflatable swim exit knowing that in fact this time it really was the exit. I had made it. Three years ago I couldn’t swim the length of a pool and now I had just swam 2.4 miles. Wow! As I got out of the water I once again saw Jason next to me in the water cheering me on. I was just absolutely glowing! The swim was now behind me! I “ran” over to the wetsuit strippers (apparently the PC term is now wetsuit peelers) and gladly sat down on the ground as they ripped my wetsuit off (if only it was that easy to put on). I thanked the awesome volunteers and headed down the chute for about a 2/10 of a mile run to transition. On the way I caught a glimpse of Andrea, Doreen, and Erica cheering for me! What a great surprise! I was just glowing at this point! I had also worn my Team in Training tri top so I had lots of people shouting the infamous “Go Team” at me. I remember thinking to myself I wish I had worn my TEAM gear for the whole race. I jogged up Mirror Lake Drive and headed into transition.
It was very slippery running into transition from everyone before me being wet but the volunteers did a great job of telling us to slow down and be careful. I headed over to the rack that had my run bag, grabbed it, and then jogged over to the woman’s changing tent. This is the first race that I have ever changed clothes during or that even had a changing tent so I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect. I will say, I wasn’t quite expecting what I had encountered.
I entered the tent and it was PACKED! There were women changing everywhere and all of the chairs that lined the tent were taken. There was barely even any space on the floor. I managed to find a tiny space to squeeze into as I opened my bag and started to get my stuff out. I took all of my wet clothes off and changed into my dry bike clothes. I was reminded of how hard it is to put spandex bike clothes onto a wet body. What a train wreck! I struggled through and had to not care that my naked butt was basically right on top of a number of other athletes. As I continued to struggle I could feel my body heating up. It was super hot and humid in the tent and just overall gross. I tried to remain focused so that I wouldn’t forget anything. Despite the overcast skies, I still applied sunscreen. I put my helmet on and threw all of the rest of my stuff in the bag to get out of there. I didn’t even put my bike shoes on because I just wanted to get out of the tent. I had to ask a volunteer what to do with my bag because I wasn’t sure where to put it. She took it for me. Once I exited the tent I swear it was instantly 15 degrees cooler. I stopped on the side and put my bike shoes on. I then headed down the chute slowly jogging as a volunteer announced my number so that another volunteer could grab my bike. When I got to my bike rack I saw that my bike was still there and a volunteer didn’t grab it, so I went and grabbed it myself. It was interesting to note that my bike was wet, apparently it had rained during the swim! I definitely had no idea but I was glad it had stopped! I was then off to the bike exit where I would hit the mount line and get on my bike.
Upon mounting the bike there was a steep couple of down hills with some tight technical turns so the volunteers told us to take it easy. As I came around the first turn I saw Jason and Matt cheering for me and taking photos! It was great to see them again since I knew it would be another 56 miles on the bike before I got the next opportunity to see them. I knew that the roads were wet and I needed to be cautious. I really just focused on one piece of the bike course at a time. I knew the course started out pretty simple until we got to Olympic ski jumps and would start doing some climbing. The climbing wasn’t bad because I knew what to expect. I followed what I was told and put the bike in a low gear and just took it easy and slowly spun up the hills. This really was my strategy for any of the hills on the course. Once we got past this it leveled out a bit before we would eventually make the steep descent into Keene. We hit the first aid station on the bike and my day almost quickly came to an end. There was a girl just seconds in front of me that went to grab a bottle from the aid station and completely lost control of the bike and hit the ground, hard, really hard. I swerved at the last minute to avoid hitting her and also being taken out. My heart was suddenly racing as I knew how lucky I was and I was so worried for her. I knew her day was probably over and I prayed that she was ok.
On the way out to Keene the views were just absolutely breathtaking. The water and the mountains were just amazing. The descents were fast but not too technical. On the first loop the course was a bit more congested so I braked a few times during the descents just to be on the safe side. I think I was also a bit extra cautious after still being shook up from the accident I just witnessed. There was actually a lot more cyclists around me than I had anticipated. I thought we would have been a bit more spread out by that point. I continued to walk myself through each part of the course and focused just on that section. I was very cognizant of my watch to ensure that I was drinking at least every 15 minutes and eating something at least every 30 minutes. My bike nutrition consisted mostly of Honey Stinger chews and Honey Stinger waffles. I also had Cliff kids bars which are delicious! I will admit it was hard to force myself to keep eating even when I didn’t feel like it, and I knew this would be a challenge, but I also knew how important it was to keep my energy up from fueling properly.
Before I knew it the pseudo flat part and descending parts of the course were over and it was time to start climbing. Now, I generally bike a good amount of hills because of where I live so I didn’t think any of the hills were too bad. Were they easy? No, but I was ready. There were some smaller hills spaced out a bit that people refer to as the “cherry’s.” After this section, probably around maybe mile 48-50ish I stopped at the aid station to use the restroom. It felt weird to get off my bike but I felt so much better. (I def haven’t mastered, nor even attempted, nor plan to, going to the bathroom on the bike. Gross. Don’t know how people do it).
Then the hills got a bit more intense and I asked the guy next to me if these were the “Bears.” He said he wasn’t familiar with the course. But just then, painted on the side of the road, it said Momma Bear. Alright these are the bears I thought to myself, just get through this and then lap one will soon come to an end. Momma Bear was annoying but nothing too bad. I didn’t think it was nearly as steep as some of the climbs at Syracuse 70.3. Next came Baby Bear which was barely a blurp. Once I got past that I looked ahead and saw Poppa Bear. Hmm, ok, this one was a bit bigger. However, suddenly I found myself feeling like I was in the Tour de France. Spectators had lined both sides of the hill and were literally screaming their faces off at all of us. I was so wrapped up in all of the support that I forgot I was even climbing. It was freaking incredible! Man, those fans were AMAZING! Before I knew it I had crested what I thought was the top and we made a quick right turn where I learned we were still climbing a bit. But the music was still going and the cheers were plentiful. I then truly crested the hill and knew the worst was over and I was headed back towards transition for lap two, but more importantly, to see my fan club first!
I headed up Mirror Lake and before I knew it I could see my entire fan club! They were just as excited to see me as I was to see them and all of the cheers brought a huge smile to my face! I suddenly got a huge rush of adrenaline! Simply amazing! They even had their signs out and were trying to sneak a few photos as well. I waved to them while being cautious to still watch my surroundings, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the moment. I continued on a few feet down the road to the bike special needs area. At this point a great volunteer greeted me with my bag. I refilled my bike bottles with the gatorade that I had in the bag (i’ve gotten use to what I trained with). I also attempted to take a few bites of a peanut butter sandwich I had made. My hope was to get some “real food” in me given all of the sports nutrition I had been eating. I also refilled the bento box on my bike with more honey stinger products and a bag of trail mix. At this point I welcomed some variety. I also pulled out of my bag a notecard that I had asked Jason to write something motivational for me so that I would have something to keep me going. I read the note – “Jac ~ You are almost there! So proud of you as your dream is about to come true…..” And then he drew an Ironman symbol on the bottom. I teared up reading it and got a bit emotional. The volunteer saw this and asked what I got. I said a few words to keep me going. He took the note from me and read it and was just as touched as I was. With that I set off to get back on the bike for lap 2.
Lap 2 fortunately was pretty uneventful. It was good in the fact that I knew what to expect from the course from the first loop, but I think that also made it feel longer. This time on the decent into Keene I was flying! I barely braked as we were far more spread out and I had plenty of space. My max speed I hit according to my Garmin was 39 mph! Wow! Pretty cool and scary all at the same time! I continued to keep forcing myself to eat and drink despite not really feeling like it. I also kept trying to get myself to focus on the moment. There were a few times on the second loop that the sky got really dark and prayed for the rain to just hold off a little longer until I got to the run. Fortunately, the rain did hold off. There is a section of the bike that is a longer out and back. On the way out I was starting to wear down a bit. It wasn’t necessarily that I was sore, but more so just kind of bored of pedaling. I told myself that when I got to the turnaround of that out and back section that I would read the notecard that my Mom had left me. When I hit the turn around point, which also had a chip sensor to capture my split, I pulled out the card from my bento box. It read “Dear Cupcake ~ We wish you the best of luck today. You are the sunshine of our life!! There is no doubt in our minds you will be an IRONMAN! We are here for you on your long journey! Keep your head up high. We love you!” More emotions over took me at this point and I stayed focus on just pushing through the bike.
With about 20 miles or so to go on the bike, I came up on a woman biking that had an Ironman Kona jersey on. I quickly recognized here as Tara Costa from the Biggest Loser. I had seen her at the expo a couple days before. I told her job job and what an amazing inspiration she is. She was super grateful and thanked me for my words. I pushed on past and was determined to just finish up the bike. I finally came up to the 100 mile marker on the ground. Wow! I have officially now completed a century ride. If you remember back, I had hit 98 miles on my longest training ride and decided to save the 100 milestone for a special day. Well, today was it and that moment was special. After that the last 12 miles dragged on for what seemed like forever. Sure, they are the hardest 12 miles of the course, but still. This time coming up on the Bears wasn’t nearly as exciting. With the threat of rain and people burning out from a long day, there was a A LOT less people out there cheering the second time. This time the hills were a bit more challenging due to fatiguing legs. I kept telling myself to push through them and then it was all flat before handing my bike over for good! I once again then headed up Mirror Lake Drive to see my family and friends! I knew exactly where to look for them as I figured they would be in the same spot as before. I saw Matt first as I came around the corner and he signaled for the rest of my family. They seemed kind of caught off guard to see me. I later learned that this was because my splits weren’t coming through in a timely manner. In fact, they hadn’t gotten any of my splits from the second loop and had started to worry. They looked up and started cheering and I could tell they were glad to know I had made it back through 112 miles on that bike without incident. I was also beyond grateful for this as well. I waved again and headed about another 1/2 mile to a mile to transition.
Coming around Main Street was amazing and all of the cheering was just incredible. When I pulled into the dismount area I was so grateful, and ready, to hand my bike off to a volunteer who would place it back on the rack for me (have I mentioned how amazing the volunteers were?!?) I then had another volunteer ask me if I wanted help getting my bike shoes off before heading into transition so I wouldn’t have to run with them on. Heck yea! He told me to put my hands on his back as he bent over and yanked my shoes off. Wow did that feel good to have those off! I thanked him and then headed for my rack to grab my run transition bag. I slowly jogged, grabbed my bag and then headed back into the dreaded changing tent. On the way I caught a glimpse of Matt and Jason across the street and yelled to them to get their attention! It was nice to catch a glimpse 🙂
This time upon entry into the tent it was a completely different scene! There was space galore and tons of open chairs. I got greeted by my own personal volunteer that helped me every step of the way. I cannot say enough amazing things about this woman – she was on top of everything. She dumped my bag out and helped me sort through what I wanted. She put my socks on top of my sneakers for me, she got out the food I wanted to eat, she even chipped my api belt around my waist once I was done changing my clothes. She rocked my world and was so helpful and patient. I was very grateful for a much smoother transition than what I had experienced earlier in the day. I took a few bites of a granola bar and then headed off! On the way out of transition I grabbed a cup of water to hydrate before hitting Main Street. It was now time for a marathon!
The marathon wasn’t really what I referred to the run as. That just seemed too long. So I stuck to calling it a run. A run that had a few different segments to it. When I first came out on Main Street I saw all of my family again and I waived like crazy. I was seriously so full of smiles every time I saw them. No matter what pain I may have been feeling, it all went away when I saw them. I continued down Main Street which was lined with spectators. Such a great sight.
I then made my way around the first turn down to the aid station. My friends Andrea, Doreen, and Erica were volunteering at this aid station and I as able to see them. They were a bit surprised I think to see me so soon. They cheered me on and I remember Andrea telling me to take it easy and walk the rest stops and hills. It was a good reminder as I had a fast first few miles (I think I was just on such a high to be off my bike and finally be on the run, plus all of the excitement of everyone cheering). It wasn’t before long though that the cheering became more scarce as we headed deeper into the run. The aid stations were every mile and I tried to stop at every one to drink at least something. My ability to eat was getting more limited as my stomach starting catching up with me. I stuck with fruit (grapes and oranges) during the first loop of the run. I even tried to eat a couple of pretzels. On the first loop of the run I ended up running into random Buffalo guy that I ran close to during most of the Buffalo Marathon. Apparently we really did have similar paces, not just on the run. We laughed a bit and then proceeded on. I actually didn’t do as much socializing as I would have thought during the run. Everyone around me just seemed very focused. So, I went back to my focus of one mile at a time. It seemed like forever until we got to the turn around of the first out and back section, perhaps because of how lonely it was out there. I will say that the volunteers did a great job of calling us out by name (on our bibs) and cheering us on. That little extra boost really helped. Eventually we made it back to civilization and I was so glad to see people. I was happy until I saw this couple in the back of their car sitting on the ledge eating soft serve ice cream with rainbow sprinkles. What a tease! I joked with them that the sight was simply cruel and evil. I wanted ice cream! No such luck though and I pushed on.
I finally got to Main Street and saw my family. I told them all I loved them and stole a kiss from Jason. These guys were started to look tired too as it really is a long day. There is then a short out and back section on Mirror Lake Drive which is where the special needs bags are. I really didn’t need much from my bag as I hadn’t ate much. I grabbed some body glide and some licorice to give me a sugar boost. I also grabbed the other note that Jason had left me. It read ” …Now finish strong my Ironman and see me at the finish where I have something special for you! :)” It also said Jackie = (Ironman symbol). Aww how sweet! I instantly throughout of the Ironman necklace that I had picked out. So sweet! I must admit for a split second I thought maybe it was “THE Ring” but I thought there was no way he would write that on an index card. Additionally, we had talked plenty about this during the months leading up to the event when others questioned us getting engaged there, and Jason was passionate about it not happening. He didn’t want to take the day away from my accomplishment when I had trained for so long for that moment. Nonetheless I loved the necklace and was excited that it would be at the finish line for me!
I continued down the road to the turn around point before heading back towards Main Street. At this point of the road you could hear Mike Reilly’s voice announcing people as Ironman coming through the finish line. I teared up a bit knowing that I was one more loop away from hearing my name and my dream coming true. Wow. Crazy. At the end of the road it was marked on the road to head right to the finish line and left for the second loop. I wish I was heading to the right but I told myself soon enough. It also helped knowing that my family was over to the left and I would see them again. I went by them again as they were all smiles. I knew next time that I saw them would be at the Finish Line. This time I headed off and noticed my friends had already finished volunteering at the aid station. I figured I would see them along the course and zoo enough I did. They were kind enough to jog with me for a bit and talk to me about the day and how I felt. At this point my stomach was really starting to feel like crap. All of the crap I ate all day was starting to catch up with me, “Iron Gut Rot” if you will. Andrea suggested trying to drink some Coke at the next aid station (which I eventually did but it didn’t really work for me – but I was willing to try anything at that point). I t was so nice to have their company for 5-10 minutes and then we said goodbye. I was then off on the lonely section again. I have to say at the this point I was ready for the run to be over. I really tried to focus on one mile at a time and just making it to the next aid station but my stomach was awful. One the second loop I didn’t eat anything. My stomach literally couldn’t handle it. I knew I was running the risk of bonking out from no energy, but at this point I knew I had enough time that I could walk and still make it to the finish line with plenty of time to spare. I finally made it to that first turn around and headed back. At this point it started to get really dark and eventually rain. The rain actually didn’t feel bad given my body being warm. I was just grateful that we had made it that long with no rain. At this point with about 7 miles to go I just hoped that it didn’t thunderstorm and they called the race. I had made it this far. I would finish. No matter what.
I tuned out for awhile on the run and just went into auto pilot. The second loop of the run contained a lot more walking than the first and my pace had slowed drastically. All of the miles that I had put my body through started to catch up with me. I then remembered that I still had my last note card from my mom in my belt. I pulled it out knowing that I could definitely use a pick me up. it said ” Remember there is always light at the end of the tunnel! Hopefully by now your journey is going smoothly. Think of happy moments. Keep your pace and don’t think about time, it’s not important. We will all be there at the finish line with open arms and tears of happiness! We love you!” Her words were exactly what I needed at that point and I pushed on while trying to smile. I eventually saw my friends again walking but I just wasn’t in a good place because of my stomach. They cheered me on and I tried to smile and push on. Eventually I made it back to the section that was more populated with spectators. I then eventually saw my friend Matt. I was so glad to see him as I needed to take my mind off of things. He jogged along side of me and I tried my best to hold a conversation with him despite my stomach hating me. I will say that having Matt next to me forced me to run a bit more than I would have if I had been alone – there would have a lot more walking. He told me that Jason was ahead waiting and that made me push on to get to Main Street. When i finally did see Jason I started to break down a bit and Jason saw it written all over my face. He told me to stay sting and stay focused and keep it together. I thanked Matt for running with me and told them both I would see them soon at the Finish Line. The “short” out and back on Mirror Lake Drive seemed like forever and was a huge tease as once again I heard Mike Reilly’s voice. Soon enough I reminded myself, soon enough. Before I knew it I hit that turn around and was headed back. The spectators were great and the music kept me going. The rain had stopped awhile back but I hadn’t really noticed. I was clearly pretty out of it. As I once again reached that magic marking in the road of 2nd loop and finish line, I instantly smiled knowing that this was it. It was time for the finish line.
As I veered to the right the fans were INSANE! Everyone was cheering and instantly every ache and pain I had was gone. Every long training day – gone. Every early morning wake up call – gone. I was overtook by emotions. This was it. This was what I had worked so hard for, for so long. My dream was real. This was it. I entered the Olympic Oval for that final 1/2 loop around the oval. The cheering, the lights, the photographers, it was all unreal. I came around the last turn and I saw the finish line!! Fortunately there was none right around me so the moment was all mine! As I came around Mike Reilly announced “Here she comes! Jackie Stevenson from Mountain Top Pennsylvania…. Jackie… YOU ARE AN IRONMAN! (Yes i’m sitting here balling my eyes out AGAIN typing this). I remember just taking in the moment. I could hear my family screaming for me but I couldn’t really see them because of the bright lights. I crossed the finish line and the “catchers” came up and grabbed me and walked with me. I burst into tears. It was real. It was true. Dreams do come true to those that work towards them. Hard work does pay off. I am an Ironman.
The catchers put my medal around my neck (some pretty amazing bling!) They handed me a bottle of water. They asked me how I was feeling and I was still glowing. In that moment, nothing hurt – it had all vanished. They asked me what size finisher shirt I wanted and went over and grabbed it for me along with my finisher hat. They asked me if I was ok before letting me go on my own to grab my photo and food. I thanked them for everything as they congratulated me once again. I was still all smiles and just overtaken by emotions. I went and got my photo taken then went to scope out the food. They had pizza which had been my go to food while training for the Ironman. I grabbed a piece and took a bite before quickly being reminded that in fact my stomach still felt awful. I then caught a glimpse of my friend Brett and went over and hugged him. I gave him pizza as I’m sure he was starving and I had zero interest in eating. We chatted for a bit before I attempted to make my way out and find my family.
Once I finally figured out how to get out of transition, I looked around and couldn’t find my family anywhere. I then asked a nice guy if I could use his phone. We ended up chatting and oddly enough he knew someone I knew from the Scranton Running Company. What a small world. I used his phone to call Jason and then finally ended up spotting him. I hung up and headed over. My family was so excited to see me and I started to go through them one by one hugging them and thanking them for being there. I started with Jason’s family, then made my way to my parents, before ending at Jason. I was just so happy. My parents were so proud of me, it was written all over their faces and that meant the world to me. I eventually made my way to Jason who hugged me and kissed me.
He then reached in his pocket and pulled out a box. He told me “I hope I got the right one.” At this point I had been so distracted by everything that I had forgotten about what he wrote on the notecard. At this point my mind was still on the Ironman M-Dot necklace. He opened the box and I literally screamed. There it was. The ring I had dreamed of for the 7+ years that we had been together. He dropped down to one knee and asked me to marry him. We were both in tears at this point and I was just so completely surprised. I of course quickly rushed to say yes! Both of our families looked on as this special moment unfolded. He then took the ring out of the box and slid it onto my finger as it sparkled in the moonlight glow. It all happened so quickly. We grabbed each other and held each other close as we shed tears of happiness. It truly was perfect. We were officially going to spend the rest of our life together and I couldn’t be more happy. Our families clapped and cheered along with random people that were around us and had witnessed our special moment. One guy even whispered to Jason that he was making him look bad to his girlfriend. As I look back now, it was perfect. Everything about the proposal. It couldn’t have come at a more special time and created an unforgettable day that I will always cherish. Jason has always been my biggest supporter in all of my athletic endeavors and now I would have his support for a lifetime.
We all gathered and took a few group pictures to cherish the special moment. It was then the conclusion of what had been a long and exhausting day for everyone. Jason’s parents headed to their car for an hour drive back to the hotel. I went and grabbed all of my stuff from transition which took a decent amount of time. Eventually I had all of my stuff and I made my way back to the shuttle to return to the car. There were no bikes allowed on the car so Jason was kind enough to walk my bike to the car. In fact, he ended up back at the car at about the same time we did. The road that our hotel was on was still closed due to the race (it was part of the run course). We ended up taking a back way to get as close to the hotel as we could and then park the car. We later went back at midnight to move the cars to the hotel. As we walked to the hotel from the car I saw the true athletes out on the course – the ones that were still going strong and pushing forward to the finish line. I cheered a good amount of them on before heading into the hotel. Their determination was truly inspiriting. I was grateful to have finished much earlier than anticipated and to be back at the hotel earlier than anticipated. At this time now I was starting to get hungry. I also knew I needed to eat or the next day would be rough. We ordered a few menu items to go from the Courtyard bistro before heading up to the room to unwind.
My phone had exploded with messages. I was overwhelmed with all of the love and support from afar of people that had tracked me all day long on my journey. I had well over 100 messages between Facebook, Instagram, text messages, voicemails, etc. My sister had been an absolutely amazing supporter throughout the day. She thought I had my phone with me during the race, which I didn’t but kept posting awesome pieces of relevant inspiration. I knew she had wished she was there so that was her way of being part of the action. So thoughtful and greatly appreciated. Brett had also been posting updates to my Facebook page all day long including pictures that Jason had taken. There was lots of great comments that people left me. It’s funny. Sometimes when I posted about my Ironman journey on Facebook, or Instagram, or even my blog, I felt like people were sick of hearing about it. But really I didn’t do it to brag, I did it to keep myself motivated and hold myself accountable. So when I saw all of the kind messages and how many people told me I had inspired them, that was really the kindest feedback I could have ever gotten. This has ben a long journey, no doubt, but I have learned a lot. I’ve learned a lot about myself, and i’ve learned a lot about others. I’ve learned about who those people are that truly support me, and those that don’t. If I have convinced a single person out their to follow their dreams like I did, and not quit, and not doubt yourself, then it was all worth it. You really can do anything you put your mind to. And yes, I AM AN IRONMAN! XOXOXOXOXOXO