by Bryan Peterson (re-posted from his blog, Lost in Transition)
“Bryan Peterson of Austin, Texas, you are an Ironman!” The words that I had imagined hearing for almost a year. The words I finally heard the evening of May 17, 2014. I had been training for this for almost a year. In many ways, I had been preparing for this for a larger part of my life. I had done it. I had accomplished a goal I set out for myself. A HUGE goal. A goal that only a small percentage of the population reaches. I had finally accomplished something epic and awesome that no one could take away and that will forever be a defining part of my life. It was an incredible moment. One of the best of my life. One that I’ll never forget and will always cherish.
Here is how that amazingly epic moment happened: I woke up early at 3:30 AM. I had slept pretty well, all things considered. I wanted to give myself plenty of time to eat breakfast, have a juice, relax, and mentally prepare for the day ahead. I have been incorporating mindfulness into my training (as well as the rest of my life) for a few months now and I’ve been amazed at how much of a difference that’s made. I wanted to afford myself some time in the morning to have a full mediation session. I felt like I was going to need it. This would end up being a huge benefit later in the day.
After all of this, I slowly started to get my stuff together. This was different. For other races, it seemed no matter how much I prepared the night before, there was always frantic running around race morning combined with general nerves and jitters. There was none of that. I was calm, organized, and focused. Even to the point where I wasn’t even second guessing myself. Every time I’ve stepped up my distance or attempted something new, I’ve always been a nervous wreck. Yet, here I was about to take on the biggest, longest, and toughest event I’ve ever tried and I was more calm and confident than I have ever been. This was a testament to both my mental focus and training. I had trained hard. I had trained for a long time. It had both physically and mentally exhausted me. During training, I often couldn’t imagine doing this again. Yet, here I was focused, calm, confident and prepared.
The rest of my Support Team (My wife Marisa and close friends Cody & Erica) awoke and we made our way down the transition area. These guys have been very supportive and encouraging and I felt very thankful to have them with me. This too would be something that would end up being a major factor later in the day. I made my way over to my bike, checked everything over, pumped up the tires, and placed my water bottles and nutrition. After letting a couple of people borrow my pump, I was off on the 3/4 mile walk to the swim start. I met up with Marisa, Cody, and Erica and we made our way down to mass that was the swim start. Making my way through the crowd I got my body marking done, dropped off my special needs, and then realized that I was unfortunately going to have to get into the seemingly infinite line for the port-o-can. All the extra time I had afforded myself was about to dissipate in a line for a coveted turn into a smelly 4’x4′ plastic compartment. Memories of my BCS Marathon where I was in the can when the gun went off came flooding back; I wasn’t going to let that happen again.
Fortunately, I made it out with about 7 minutes before the starting gun. As I did, I met one of my coaches, Amy Marsh. (Her husband Brandon Marsh, my other coach, had already taken off in the pro start) She had some last minute words of wisdom and wished me luck. I got the wetsuit on, got my good lucks and goodbyes from the Support Team, kissed the wife, and scrambled down to the start. There was a big bottle-neck at the small boat ramp that led into the swim start. As I got to the traffic jam of people, the gun went off. There were a few people that tried to push their way up through the crowd once that happened. They soon realized we weren’t just meandering around or scared to get in the water. We were all trying to get in the water as quickly as possible. I saw people jumping off the pier the other way, some of which were hitting rocks in the water. I had no idea where the actual start line was. I just knew I needed to go “that” direction, where everyone else was going. I found an opening, dove off the end of the ramp, started the Garmin and began swimming. U2’s “Beautiful Day” was playing.
Swimming is by far my weakest event. My strategy is just to survive, make the cutoff, and not expend all of my energy. I am what they call a very not-fast (try not use the “s” word) swimmer. I’ve had some really bad swims and some swims that were not completely terrible. Two things happened on this swim that have never happened to me during a race before. The first, I never stopped. I’ve learned that for some reason my body has a hard time getting moving. The first 3 miles of a run, the first 5-7 miles of a ride, the first 500 meters of a swim are all hard and my body just wants to quit. After that, the body realizes it has lost the argument and succumbs to providing the athletic performance it’s been trained for. If I can just push through the first 500 meters, I’ll establish a rhythm and I should be fine. I quickly got in a rhythm and never really got out of it. I got kicked, punched, bumped, grabbed, and swam over, but still I never stopped and never felt like I needed or wanted to. The second thing that hadn’t happened before: I was passing people. Not a ton of people, but it seemed like I was passing more people than were passing me. This was my philosophy for the bike and run and it seemed to be working on the swim. As we made the turn into the canal (about 3,000 meters), I glanced at my Garmin and noticed that I was swimming at a pace faster than I expected to. A pace I hadn’t really done much of even in training.
I slowed a little bit in the canal due to the fact that the close quarters forced everyone on top of each other. I had about twice as much contact in that last 1,000 meters than I had in the first 3,000. As I made my way to the swim exit, I prepared to get out of the water and start my transition. I had done the distance a few times in training. Each time I had completed it, I felt a little tired, a little winded, but that I still had plenty of energy to ride and run. In all of my other races, when I got to the swim exit my legs were tight and shaky, taking a while to get my legs underneath me. Neither of those happened here. I stepped onto the stairs at the exit and was very surprised. I didn’t feel winded. My legs were strong. I felt incredible. At that point I heard my name from the crowd and saw the Support Team. I felt amazing. My Garmin would later inform me that I swam 2.75 miles due to the start behind the start line and the wide angles I took. I did that distance in slightly faster than what I expected to do the 2.4 miles.
I got out of the wetsuit and into the changing tent. Or, rather I stopped at the entrance to the changing tent, noticed the cluster of people, and decided I would put my shoes and helmet on outside. I dropped off my bag, ran to my bike and I was off again. As I got to the mount line, I again heard my name. It was the Support Team again. Did I mention that these guys were awesome? That, the rest of the cheering crowd, and the momentum from the swim had me exhilarated. I felt charged, as if the bike wreck from a week ago
The bike was one of my best rides yet. I was dialed in, present, and focused. My mind wasn’t wandering and I was able to both focus on and enjoy every moment. I wasn’t even phased by the guy who felt it necessary to tell me that when the light hit them right, my shorts were basically see through. Mindfulness at work! My hydration, fueling, and nutrition strategy was working perfectly. I was able to stay in the aero position for most of the way. Not even the wind, chip seal surface, or hills really phased me. After all, none of that was anywhere near what I’d been training on in Austin. I got a good boost from when I was passed on the bike course by the Support Team. They had, unadvisedly, driven out onto the bike course, cheers and cow bells blaring. It was much appreciated.
I had a brief stop at special needs and another at a rest stop to run into a port-o-can (peeing on the bike just wasn’t happening). Even with those two stops, I finished the bike in 6:35, averaging 17 mph. I was happy with that. As I dismounted, I again saw the Support Team cheering loudly. I felt great as I ran into transition. A volunteer took my bike and I ran to get my transition bag. As I went into the changing tent, I realized I now had no concept of what time it was. It really didn’t seem real that I was now about to run a marathon. A brief sit to put my run shoes on, quick slather of Vaseline on some strategic areas, a laugh at the guy behind me that had put a McDonald’s cheeseburger in his run gear bag, and I was off again.
I had a quick pee, had sunscreen applied and I was ready. The run. The part of which I felt the most confident and well trained. As I exited the changing tent, I again saw the Support Team. They were very encouraging and confident, saying “You got this”. My wife was very encouraging. “This is part you’re most comfortable and confident about. You’re doing great!” I couldn’t believe I where I was. I couldn’t believe that while I was tired and wearing down, I felt good; better than I even imagined I would at this point.
I had a very specific run plan that I knew I needed to stick to if I was going to finish where I wanted to. The run was a three loop course, roughly 9 miles each. The first 10 miles, I ran my plan perfectly. By mile 12, things had started to get tough. I was getting hot, physically and mentally tired, and despite my best effort my legs were slowing down. I decided I would have to dip into my special needs bag after all. I grabbed my fuel hydration (mixture of electrolytes and amino acids) and a rice cake. I felt like I needed to eat but couldn’t take in anymore gel.
My feet hurt. My legs were getting wobbly. I was tired and felt like I was running out of gas. I realized I was off my race plan. For the next couple of miles I was telling myself that I was just regrouping and that I would get back on plan soon. I then realized that wasn’t going to happen. My plan was now to just stay focused, keep pushing and try to finish as strong as possible. I didn’t feel like I was failing or being weak or breaking down. I was giving it all I had. This was just the reality of my race now.
The crowds were incredible. Rarely was there a place where you weren’t surrounded by legions of cheering fans. Some plain clothed. Some in costumes. There were the hippies banging on garbage cans. There was the triathlon training group in speedos. There was the guy in the speedo and gift wrapped box strategically placed a la Justin Timberlake on SNL. There were the signs. Some funny, some inspirational, all positive. There were all the people who were cheering your name, giving high-fives, telling you how awesome you were, and spurring you on. There were all the children who wanted high-fives from every single person who ran by. It was the largest amount of and densely concentrated positivity that I’ve ever experienced. It was awesome! Dispersed throughout all of this was the Support Team. They would randomly show up at different spots to cheer me on and emphatically ring the cow bells. I was struggling. I was tired. I was slowing. But I was energized. I was happy. I was going to finish.
Starting the third loop, I could neither believe how much more I had to go nor how much I had completed already. I still had no concept of what time it was. I kept pushing through. I tried taking gel and it was really hard to get it down. I tried the flat Coke, that didn’t work at all. I had some cookies at one of the aid stations and they seemed as if they were some of the best things I’ve ever eaten. Unfortunately none of the other aid stations had them. I just kept moving, putting one foot in front of the other. “JFR” as my running group says. The distance between aid stations felt like it was getting longer and longer. The sun had gone down. I made it to mile 24 and it took all I had to keep moving. The run/walk had become a little more walk than run. Once again, the Support Team showed up to cheer me on, cow bells and all. I had two more miles to go. I had come so far, and now I didn’t have far to go.
I made it to the loop turn off point. The place where I had gone to the left twice before to go onto the 2nd and 3rd loop. I was now going to go right, following the signs that said “Finish”. It was a dark and deserted stretch as I ran uphill from the waterway toward the finish chute. I was by myself. I heard U2’s “Where the Streets Have No Name” playing from the finish line. It was getting louder and louder. U2 is my favorite band and that’s one of my favorite songs. It would be so cool to run in to that. I could now hear the crowd and they were growing louder. I had all the motivation I needed. As I turned the corner and entered the chute, the energy was palpable. Everyone lined against the fence, banging on the barriers, emphatically cheering, yelling my name, giving high fives. It was absolutely incredible! For so long, all I could think about was finishing. Now, I didn’t want this moment to end. I made eye contact and high-fived everyone I could. In the last stretch, the crowds were bigger and louder. The emotion I was feeling at this point I still can not put into words.
I heard my dad’s voice and saw him, my mother, and my cousin there to cheer me on. I high-fived each of them. I saw the finish line and heard Mike Riley say those words: “Bryan Peterson of Austin, Texas, you are an Ironman!” I was no longer touching the ground, I was just floating above it. Nothing hurt anymore. I felt incredibly alive! I ran towards the finish line, feeling exhilarated, ecstatic, accomplished. I put my arms in the air. Just before crossing the finish line, I again heard my name. It was the Support Team. Marisa, Cody, and Erica had been there the entire way. At the start, numerous points throughout the race, cheering, encouraging. And here they were cheering their loudest. I ran over to them and got high-fives from each of them. I turned and cross the finish line. 14:04:08. It was one of the greatest moments of my life. I am an Ironman!