Dionn Schaffner, a member of Team Rogue, completed her first Ironman last weekend at the Coeur d’Alene. Below is a first-hand account of her experience, excerpted from her blog. You can read the original entry and follow her entire journey leading up to the big day at Texas Tri Mom. Great job, Dionn!
Wow. I mean really, just wow. What an AMAZING day and experience that was. Simply incredible.
2.4 mile swim. 112 mile bike. 26.2 mile run.
I DID IT! I DID IT! I DID IT!!!
And I could not have done it with out the support, training, love and inspiration from my family, teammates, sherpas, cheerleaders and coaches who were out in FULL force physically at the race and virtually all over the US. Seriously, you guys are amazing!! I cannot begin to describe the amount of sheer will and energy you all provided during this race for me. It was the epitome of Team Effort. Although triathlon is an individual sport, I craved a team atmosphere..and you guys delivered. Hands down. I Love you guys!!!
And here’s how it all went down…..
As you well know, my biggest concern about this race was the swim. Cold water and I, historically, have not done well. Throw in another 2,000+ people starting at the same time and I’ve got legitimate concerns on my hands (and feet). Fortunately, I’ve been training for cold water since February and the temperature gods smiled upon us this day and warmed the waters to a respectable 65 degrees (compared to last year’s 59. oye). Additionally, I was able to practice on the swim course twice before race day. Very key. My plan was this… start on the far right hand edge and when the cannon goes off, do nothing. That’s right. nothing. Just wait. Wait until the bulk of the people take off.
There was a group of similarly paced T3ers who were going to start together and although this would be an awesome place to start, swim with and draft off of, I knew it wasn’t the right strategy for me. Trying to keep pace with someone else takes me out of my game…and for this swim, I needed my A game..nothing less would pull me through.
So as we entered the beach, I waved goodbye to my teammates and sauntered off to the right…alone. Ironic given that I love being with my team..but this part, I knew I must do alone. Since it takes me about 2 minutes to go through my cold water routine, I figured I’d just get in the water before the race starts and get the process going. This turned out to be a GREAT plan! Then about 45 seconds before the start, I got back out of the water and wiggled my way to the middle/back of the pack.
The gun went off. I started my watch. The first several rows of people went running/diving/careening into the water. I waited. It only took about 10 seconds for them to be off the beach. I waded back into the water, finished my cold water routine and was ready to swim. Looked at my watch, only 30 seconds had passed. Cool!! I wasn’t giving them that big of a head start. YAY! And off I went.
And guess what? It wasn’t bad at all!!! Well, it was really wavy and choppy, but the nice thing about waves is that they are rhythmic. And I’m all about the rhythm. I just settled into a very calm stroke, timing my breathing with the waves so I wasn’t trying to take in air when I went crashing through a wave. It worked wonderfully!! I stayed on the far outside edge — mentally thinking I had an escape route if it started getting crowded–and just swam. Before I knew it, I was rounding the first turn and thinking…hey…I just might survive this thing afterall!
Came through the first loop, hit the timing mat, checked my watch, 42 minutes. Slower than I usually swim, but hell, I’m alive, I haven’t panicked, so I’ll take it! Back into the water and ran into Val who gave me some great encouragement (as we stood there taking care of business..because dammit, I just can’t pee while I swim!). Charged into the second loop with fervor and confidence and really went after my swim. I felt like I picked up the pace and even swam next to the buoys, battling it out with the rest of the folks. (It actually wasn’t that bad at this point because it had thinned out alot). It was very empowering to be keeping up (and passing guys in their red caps)! I was totally hearing the Ironman song the play on the videos and thinking, “Hey…look at me! I’m swimming like an Ironman! WOO HOO!”
Came out of the water from the second loop, looked at my watch 1:29. Huh? How was that slower than the first time? I was swimming so much faster…I thought. Then my mind cleared and I said, “Who the hell cares?” (Ok..it was probably an F-bomb.) “I’m out of the freakin’ water!!! This race is as good as DONE!” Even though I had a very, very long day ahead of me, I had NO doubts whatsoever at that point that I was going to finish this race and become and Ironman. I seriously couldn’t have been more confident then I was at that moment….and that set the stage for a wonderful and fantastic day. I smiled and waved to all the folks yelling my name as I headed towards transition. I couldn’t really see individual faces, but I could her voices and everyone cheering and yelling. Yay, yay, YAY!!!!!
Hiccup #1: Although I felt on top of the world, apparently I didn’t look it. After getting my wetsuit stripped off me, I was summarily directed to the Medical tent. I was like “what the hell is going on..”. The nice volunteer medical person gently, but firmly ushered me towards the medical warming hut and calmly asked me for my number. “Uh, 2289?” I replied. “Do you want to go on?” she asked. “HUH?” I said. “Do you want to keep racing?”
I started thinking. Lord, what the hell? Am I cut? Am I bleeding? Am I missing an appendage? What? What? I do a quick glance over my body and see that in fact everything is as it should be. “Yes, YES! I want to keep going!!” I say. “Ok, then we’ll get your swim to bike bag and you can get changed in here.” she replies.
And then I looked over at the only other inhabitant of the hut. It was another woman. She must’ve weighed all of 80 pounds..soaking wet…if weighed while wearing her wetsuit. She was huddled next to the huge heater that was blasting hot air at such a rate that my hair was no longer wet and my eyes were beginning to itch because they were getting so dry. She was wrapped in mylar blankets and just sat there, with all her bags by her feet. She was pale. Her lips were blue. She looked defeated. She clearly, was NOT going on.
Wow. If she looks like that and she’s here. What the hell do I look like that landed me here? Just then the friendly volunteer reappeared with my transition bag and I shimmied out of my (now dry) bathing suit and dressed in warm toasty-ness into my bike gear. She helped me get dressed and put my swim stuff back into my bag. She looked me over from head to toe and I kept thinking, this is the biggest test of my life right here. I’ve trained hard for 6 months in the pool, on the bike, and on the road..any of those tests I can pass. This one I didn’t prepare for …please lord, let me pass, LET ME PASS. Let. Me. Pass!
I then I heard four magical and glorious words, “OK, You can go.” “Thank you, thank you, thank you!” I screamed. I think I hugged her. I may have even kissed her, I’m not sure..I busted out of there and headed off to grab my bike.
Phew!!! Transition 1 time: 13 minutes!!
As obvious from the pictures of me on the bike route (to be posted later), you will see me with a HUGE grin on my face. I was so ecstatic to have survived the swim and cleared medical, I couldn’t stand it!!!
I proceeded to have the most wonderful ride ever! First of all, time on the computrainer paid MASSIVE dividends!!!! I was uber-prepared for each and every hill. Hands down. Coupled with the fact that in my mind, I’m a goat and I LOVE hills and I was just going at a nice steady (not racing by any stretch) pace….the course was fantastic. I had dressed warmly enough (full fingered gloves even) that the temps were perfect. And with all the out and backs, I got to see SO MANY of my teammates riding and cheering along the course. You seriously couldn’t go more than 5 minutes without seeing somebody! It was AWESOME!
And although my bike computer stopped working after 35 minutes into the ride (I figured this was a sign to not worry about my speed), I used my wrist watch to keep on top of my nutrition which worked fabulously! There were times when I started to feel a little light headed, but I would simply get some more to eat and within moments I was back to being squared away. Also, since I’ve had such VAST experience with cramping, I became highly adept at noticing when the little tickles of impending cramps started appearing. Quickly taking some extra Thermolytes solved those issues and kept any and all cramps at bay.
I ended up playing leap frog with Val (who had done the computrainer 10 times!!) for most of the ride. Me passing her on the ups, she overtaking me on the downs and the flats. Classic and fun! Even got to see Erin a couple times when she went flying by me the other way! YAY E!!
Hiccup #2: So, at mile 40 I decide to take my first bathroom break. I was fortunate to find a potty stop where there was no one in line. SCORE!! I clip out with my right foot, come to a nice stop in front of a volunteer who is waiting to hold my bike while I potty. (Talk about service, right??) But I can’t seem to get my left foot out. Hmmm. With some force, I manage to free it and go about my business. Upon my return, I can’t, for the life of me, get my left cleat back on to the pedal. I check out my shoe to make sure I haven’t picked up any rocks, dirt or debris in there, I check the pedal…everything looks good. I try again. And again. And again. No luck. Then I try harder. and harder. and HARDER. I’m literally jumping with all my force on my left side trying to get my cleat in. I’m pulling up on the handle bars so hard, that I’m afraid I’m going to break them! Shit, shit, SHIT!!!!
Ok, now what. I think to myself. Just get on and ride, you are wasting too much time here. Maybe you can work on it while your riding. So that’s what I do. I clip in on the right and pedal away with my left shoe pedalling on top of the pedal, not clipped in. On every flat or descent I tried to wiggle, press, push, cajole my cleat onto the pedal. No dice.
Ok, now what. Let’s just keep going until we can find a bike mechanic. Maybe it just needs a little lube. Ok, let’s go with that plan. Pedal, pedal, pedal.
Finally, just after the special needs pick up (mile 60ish?), there was a mechanic stopped who was just finishing up changing a tire for another rider. I stopped and asked for some lube and told him the problem. He found some and squirted on my cleat and the pedal. I tried clipping in. No go. We tried together…him placing my foot exactly where is should go, me stomping on it as hard as I could. Still no dice. Dammit, dammit, dammit.
He flipped my foot over and examined my cleat and simply shook his head. “Wow, this cleat looks shot.” “What?!!!” I never even thought to check my cleats before the race. Damn rookie. He tried bending it, scraping some dirt, but to no avail. I couldn’t get clipped back in.
Ok, now what. “Well,” I looked at the bike tech. “I’ve got one cleat that works. Guess that’s gonna have to do it today.” He said, “Yep.” And off I went. With only my right foot clipped in. And damn if my left foot isn’t the stronger one. Oh well, all this remaining work with just the right side might bring those into balance after today. Here we go.
And so I rode 72 miles with only one leg clipped in. It is the Ironman afterall. Aren’t these type of things supposed to happen?
Hiccup #3: Also during the bike ride, I had an unexpected surprise. As I was entering town after the first loop, I’m just pedalling along, looking at all the folks, waving, smiling…when out of the midst of 1,000 screaming voices, I hear something that has a direct line to my soul. It has the ability to silence any and all other sounds instantaneously. It makes everything else fade hazily into the background as every fiber of my heart and my soul quiver and hone into the source of the sound. A simple sound. A simple word. But packing the power of a thousands suns:
Time slows, I glance over to my right…and there, amongst the spectators, two beaming faces with expectant and excited eyes. Smiling, waving energetically with all the power their little 4 and 8 year old bodies can muster, my boys were there. In Coeur d’Alene. At the race. Cheering. For me! They were supposed to be at home. In Austin. But here they were!
Scott was standing with a huge grin on his face, hoisting Devon higher so he could see me better as I flew by on my bike. I could tell he was proud of me and proud of pulling off one of the most amazing and much appreciated stunts I’ve ever witnessed…spiriting my family to the race…without me every knowing they were coming! Shay was smiling brightly, snuggled in my Boston Marathon sweatshirt to boot!
I waved frantically, hysterical with surprise, excitement and joy back at them! “Hi, Hi, HI!” I’m sure I was riding quite erradictly at that point. Only one foot clipped in and only one hand on the bike..recipe for sure disaster, so I quickly put my hand back down on my bike and pedalled on!
Of course I automatically switched into “Mom” mode and started thinking “wait..who’s taking care of the dogs? What are they wearing? It’s going to get cold. And rain! Do they have ponchos? An umbrella? What are they going to do for the next several hours until I see them again? Did Scott pack enough snacks for them?” It went on and on for about what seemed like 5 minutes until I snapped back. “Chill, D. There’s nothing you can do about any of that. Scott’s got this under control. Clearly.” And then I went back to thinking how awesomely cool it was and thankful I was that they were here and would get to be a part of this wonderful experience and how I wanted them to be proud and show my boys that: Yes. You CAN do anything you set your mind to doing. Any. Thing.
The run was quite uneventful, thankfully. It did get cold. And rainy. And windy. But I was well prepared…physically and mentally. While training for Boston this past winter, I ran with Team Rogue in conditions 10 times worse. And often. This weather was no big deal. I was dressed appropriately, complete with arm warmers and running gloves. I followed instructions and kept running through Mile 16. At that point, I knew I had this thing in the bag. I slowed down. Walked when I felt like it. Drank warm chicken broth at the aid stations. Made bathroom stops at will. Chatted with teammates (Elizabeth was awesome to run and walk with down by the lake!). Ran into old friends from college (Hello Matt!). Cheered on everyone I could see.
Several times, especially during the second loop, I started choking up. I couldn’t believe it. I WAS going to finish this thing. I WAS going to become an Ironman. This Day. I was going to hear him call my name at the finish and I was going to love it!
I turned the final corner and glanced down the street. You could see the grandstands, the lights, the finishing chute. All there just waiting to embrace me. You could hear the cheers from the people and it gave me goosebumps. I picked up my pace and finally let go the tears that had been threatening to come..for 14 hours. I just let them go and went crying, running through the finishing chute, unable to focus through the tears but clearly making out the glorious sound of
“Dionn Schaffner! You. Are. An IRONMAN!”
The crowd erupts once more! I cross the line..hands held high in victory, astonishment, amazement, pride. Yes. Yes. YES! I did it! I really, really DID IT!
Then I exit stage left, crying into my hands like a little girl. But dammit, I didn’t care. I’m an IRONMAN!
Final time: 14:07:38
As they say, an Ironman is not just about the race, it is about the journey. And what a journey it has been for me. All the friendships made, bonds created, lessons learned – sometimes the hard way, obstacles faced and fears overcome…this is all a part of me now. I am truly forever changed by this experience. Ironman is about perseverance, endurance – mental and physical, being inspired and inspiring others, challenging yourself to dream and dream big.
Have no doubt, I will be back to toe the line again. For this is a journey that I’m sure no many how many times I embark, will always deliver something different, something valuable, something wonderful.
There’s an Ironman in all of us. It may not be in the form of a triathlon, but it is out there, somewhere. Don’t be afraid to find yours. I promise you, you won’t regret it.