As I came out of the transition tent, my worries were my foot (would it prove bad enough to be unable to run?) and an additional cut-off (at the athlete dinner, we were surprised to hear there was a 9:00PM cut-off at x and y intersection. Unfortunately, we didn’t catch the intersection and I never found it posted anywhere, so this unknown created a real sense of dread—seeing as I was so close to the bike cut-off).
I switched into power walk mode as even though I was walking, I wasn’t going to lollygag. There were so many people coming and going that it was a huge boost; I had been fairly lonesome on the bike in the final miles, so this was a nice change. The evening was absolutely beautiful and the air from the lake was refreshing. I love to run at this time of day, so it was a great pick-me-up to my spirits to be out and moving. I hit the aid station and grabbed something to drink. My plan was to alternate Coke, Gatorade, and chicken broth and do without solid food altogether. Yum; my cold Coke (with ice!) tasted delicious.
As I came up to the mat at the turn around, I saw my friend Kent up ahead. Now, normally, I should never see Kent as he is amazingly fast, so obviously something was wrong; it turns out, he was having an issue and walking it off for a bit. We chatted but I kept moving—he offered some wonderful encouragement and his sweet smile. Soon after was the 1-mile mark and I began to run. It worked! I was moving! I decided to stick with the original plan of 9 minutes of run/1 minute walk plus walking the aid stations for the first loop.
I came into town and saw the family and friends, who told me I looked good (they all sounded very relieved). I felt amazing at that point. As I turned into the neighborhood, I heard a man call out, “Looking good 2278!” and then I heard him turn to the people next to him and say, “See that good form? That is the mark of a real athlete.” I can’t describe how that made me feel—so much of the time, the negative part of me tells me things to the contrary and to have this stranger, this bystander say something like that…well, it was like a little golden present that went straight to my heart.
I was moving along pretty well and moving up through the file of people. Of course, I recognized that many (most) of these people were getting ready to finish but I took comfort in the fact that I felt better than many people who appeared to be much fitter. I had the pleasure of seeing Carrie, Claire, Malinda, and Cathy at different times and we all exchanged words or high fives or even hugs. After turning through the town, I found Coach Amy who made me cry by telling me how proud she was of me. I think we said some other things but I can’t remember other than I left in a glow.
The lake road was beautiful and we were running on the super smooth bike path. I loved being out there and spent as much time as I could looking across the water at the beautiful scenery. The temperature was perfect; even so, I was taking the ice water to dump on my shoulders and chewing on ice. I knew I was working hard because I was so warm but I wasn’t dehydrated, as I needed to make a stop in the port-a-potty to empty my bladder. I was also carrying a sponge to wipe the constant snot from my nose. As I ran along, I remembered friend Amy’s comments about positive energy and I tried to give encouragement to others as I went. The music along the course gave me a huge lift—there was lots of 70s and 80s pump-you-up rock and the band geek in me can’t help but run in step. Next thing I knew, I was at the base of the hill and I actually smiled. I ran up that hill and, as I came to the turn around, I did a little glider plane with my arms and motored around. What runner can’t run downhill? That portion was sweet!
When I came back into the music, there were text messages for the runners and I saw mine: “L. Nyfeler, you are an Ironman!” I smiled and kept on. The sun was setting so my sunglasses came back down. I came back by the stretch with all the road signs and thought that, on the way back, I would make more of an effort to read them. Turned off into the town and the twisty turns, past the house with great music (every time I came by, they were playing a song that I loved and could sing along to, so I did and danced while I went by to applause and cheers), past the lady in the middle of the road yelling, “Today is your birthday! Happy birthday!” and giving high fives, past the hula folks with the Guitar Hero guitar and disco lights, and around a few more corners back to Coach Amy.
Again, I can’t really remember what was said. Whatever it was was just right and kept me moving forward. It was a little sad to see the folks veering off into the lane for those finishing and me staying to the right for another loop. I could hear the finish line, which I knew was hours away for me. Oh well, nothing to do but keep on. I felt very good coming back into town though there were so few athletes with me that I began to get down (I wondered if I were last) but again, I put that aside: my goal was to become an Ironman, if that meant finishing in 16:59:59. And, to be honest, I’d had a talk with myself; I had decided that even if I couldn’t make the finish, I would cover every step of the way because I would know in my heart that I could do an Ironman. So, time really didn’t matter. I was there till the bitter end, no matter what.
Once through town, it was a desolate on the out-and-back; there were very few people, and most were walking and seemed to be in a bad way. Again, I tried to give a little as I went by. Lots of people said to me, “How do you walk so fast?” It’s not really walking—it’s my trail runner mountain troll shuffle. I felt so lucky to have had my trail experience before getting to Ironman, as my go-forever eat-up-the-miles pace was like an old familiar shoe I slipped into. I stopped at special needs to get my long sleeved shirt and gloves, which I didn’t really need but wanted to keep. The gloves went in my pocket and the shirt around my waist. Back through town, where my friend Paul said to me as I rounded the corner, heading out, “If you just keep this up, you’ll do fine.” I thought, I can do that!
I decided to drop the 1-minute walk break and simply walk through the aid stations. I was pretty sure my “run” had slowed but I felt fairly strong and consistent in what I was doing. As I came through the stretch with the great music and fun people, several of them yelled, “We’ll be here when you come back!” A few more turns, and there was Coach Amy. She told me I was doing great and I asked, “Am I going to make it?” She gave me an incredulous look and said, “Leah, you have 2 ½ hours.” I said, “Yeah, but have you done the math? I can’t do the math.” She ran a few steps with me and said gently, “You are doing everything you need to do. Just keep it up and you’ll be fine.” Sigh. I felt the weight of worry fall off my shoulders.
There was a wonderful volunteer at the corner where we turned onto Lakeshore Avenue. Everytime I came by, she said my name and some specific words of encouragement. As I came by this time, she said, “Good job, Leah. You will make it.”
By this time, it was dark and they had begun to pick up the signs. It was funny, though, because they had quit and, right there in the front, was one of the signs my kids had made (it said, “Texas Ironmen are really, really, really ridiculously good looking.”). I got a huge laugh out of seeing it.
By this time, I had decided to drop walking through the aid stations if I could. My stomach was getting a bit water logged and I really only needed a few sips to get me through each mile, so no need to stop and walk (except for the broth, which I had to choke down). I kept on the lookout for Cathy but she managed to sneak by me in the dark.
Again, I came to the hill and I ran up it, doing my airplane move again. My legs were starting to protest but I ran as much and as fast as I could downhill.
I began to talk outloud to myself again. I told myself that it was really downhill from here until the finish. That I needed to close the gap. That every step running was one second off my finish time. Every time I passed someone, I felt a jolt of energy. Thank goodness we were on the smooth bike path, because it was pitch dark (except for the big klieg lights that really did nothing but blind me).
Back again to the sweet volunteer on the corner, who I thanked profusely for all her help. There was my lovely Coach Amy, who told me I was going to be an Ironman today. Back through all the partiers and the music…everyone of them said they planned to be there until the last person came through. Past the wonderful spectators who told me things like, “Four more turns and then you have eight blocks into the finish! They’re waiting for you!”
Finally it was my turn to take the split to the finisher’s lane. I turned to the woman near me and said, “We’re going to be Ironmen today!”
I came up the little rise towards Sherman street and made the turn. There was the finish at the end, and it looked just as full of people as it had been earlier in the day. I was in shock…the next thing I knew, I was running through a gauntlet of my family and friends, high fiving, yelling, and then I was through and down the block, into the light….
It was incredible, a wall of sound—it seemed as though everyone was yelling my name. We were spaced out, so I had most of the finish chute to myself and I couldn’t help it; the fist came up and I was the biggest ham in the world, high fiving, yelling.
There was the tape!
In all the excitement and joy, I totally missed hearing it, but I’ve been assured that Mike Reilly said,
“Leah Nyfeler, from Austin, Texas, YOU are an Ironman!”
The volunteer scooped me up at the finish, put on my medal, wrapped me up in Mylar, and pointed me towards my picture. The next thing, my whole family was there, wrapping me in a hug, all of them crying. I have never, ever felt anything like that. Everything I did over the last six months and in the final 16:34 was worth that wonderful hug.
Every step was amazing. I wouldn’t trade any single moment of my day for any other. It’s like the Stones say, “You don’t always get what you want/you get what you need.” I got what I needed, and I got it all.
I'm a writer, editor, runner, and adventurer who is always looking for the next new story, exciting adventure, and good meal/book/movie. My focus is on helping people find their best, healthiest self through sharing what I know and how I've come to learn it. In addition to my blog "Enjoying the Journey: Observations on the Fit Life" at www.leahruns100.com, my articles have appeared in a variety of print and online magazines. You can hear me as part of the 2015 Austin cast of Listen To Your Mother.
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