I made my way, the best I could, into T2. I was hobbling, trying to get my legs to form some kind of stride. Heck, I would have settled for a trot but the legs just weren't working that way. I almost found myself in mens transition but a volunteer with a pink mohawk guided me in the right direction. The room was empty with the exception of some pretty tired looking women. It was very quiet. First thing I did was take off my shoes and socks. Then I found a power bar and started eating. I was changing and eating. I took everything off, I didn't want anything wet on me. The sun was setting and it was already cool. The last thing I needed was to spend energy trying to stay warm. Put baby powder on my feet and laced up my shoes. I felt like I was moving in slow motion. Finished the power bar and grabbed a cup of water from a table near the out door. A volunteer met me there and took my bike to run bag while I fumbled to take a Tylenol. Once outside I saw my mom, Keri and Patty still cheering as I balked at going in the 1st p.a.p., the next one was usable so in I went. They were right in front of me when I came out. Well in front and above me. We talked as I tucked my gel away and found a spot for my inhaler. I said my good byes with a big smile and I was off.
Ok I told myself. You have 2 ways to do this. Mile by mile or hour by hour. I know I have said all along to "race with your heart not your watch" but I wasn't going to race. I just wanted to finish and at that moment, in my mind, counting the hours down sounded like a lot less than miles. Then I remembered what last years IMOO 3rd place women's finisher (25-29 a/g) told me. "Walk or slowly jog your first 2 or 3 miles. Don't run. You'll catch everyone who passes you and many more if you just start out slow." They were hard words to live by but I did. I was able to trot now, I wanted to run. But I didn't I jogged and was passed by more than a few people. Take it in I told myself. Look around you. Madison is a great city. It's a lot like Chicago's Lincoln Park. With the tree lined streets, restaurants and bars, shops and small offices. It's very clean. I was able to watch the female winner run towards the finish. "You rock" I yelled to her. She was smiling and looked so strong. Before I knew it my runners legs took over. I think I jogged about 2 miles but now my legs told my mind that the warm up was over. Keep your turn over short I was telling myself. Keri told me this several years back and it's been very helpful in keeping me focused when I run long distances. I could feel the wind in my face. I was smiling. It felt so good. Everything felt right. This was what I wanted to feel in Boston. But didn't until the very end. Today was the Ironman and after swimming 2.4 miles and riding 112, I embraced this wonderful feeling with open arms. Slow and steady I was telling myself, it's still early. I kept hearing my name called out. You look good Pam, Nice smile Pam - keep smiling. I would see the mile markers and fight the urge to look at my watch. I was wondering were the Moo crew was. Would I see anyone? The crowds were great but I really wanted to see a familiar face.
I felt my pace picking up. I was passing people now. Thankfully the queasy stomach I had on the bike was gone. Started to feel a stitch and did the breathing exercise where you push the stomach out when you breath in and then pull it in when you breath out (I think that's the order) and within a couple of breaths it was gone. Ran thru the U W football stadium. It seemed so small. On TV it looks larger than life and appears to just go on and on but running down the sidelines, everything looked miniature. The seats, the end zone, all of it was just .... tiny. As I was making my way onto the school campus I saw Scott. I let out a squeal or maybe it was a scream. I was so happy to see him. I called out to him. "You look great Scott". He smiled and waved. Not less than 200 yards later I see Dennis. His head was down and he was in a zone that I have never seen him in before. He was moving quick and steady. "Hey, Dennnnniiiisss. " I said low and loud. He gave a wave of acknowledgement but never took his eyes off the path. I have to say this, for a second, maybe it was 2 seconds I thought about chasing him. But was reminded by what he told me "stay with your plan". My plan wasn't to chase anyone. My plan was slow and steady. Shortly after seeing Dennis, probably 500 yards shortly, I saw a pack of runners. 3 or 4 people just running together. Laughing. Talking. This isn't something you see while running in the Ironman. Who was right in the thick of that conversation, GIL! It was just like Gil. GILLLLLL! , I yelled. He kind of turned as if he recognized that someone just shouted his name but kept running at his pace. And just like that, I saw Mike. He was looking a little tired but moving. "You look strong Mike", I yelled and pointed to him. He just shook his head. "Oh no", I said, "you rock, you look GREAT!" And then my moo crew mates were gone. I felt very alone at this point. An unwelcome feeling for sure. One I wanted to shake. I turned the corner and was met by a hill. What?! Who put this here I thought. People were walking up it. There was no way I could walk. If I started to walk I wouldn't start running again. Ok, head down, hills build character I told myself. Half way up I saw a sign, something about blood staining the pavement. UGH! Don't look at anymore signs. Just keep going. I kept thinking about heart break hill in Boston. I read so much about it and when I got there, well, it didn't seem like much. Why hadn't I heard about this hill. Then I did remembered Michelle saying something about 2 hills and it dawned on me this must be it. I finally reached the top and started to feel the miles that I had just completed. You're ok I told myself. Keep going. An aid station is coming soon, just keep going. I saw the 6th mile marker. I was surprised to see it because I don't remember seeing mile 5. I was so happy I said out loud to an older couple sitting next to it, "I can't believe it's mile 6, there it is." They found my comments pretty funny. And now I could check my watch. "Don't be disappointed I told myself, and if things are slower than what you want, DON'T SPEED UP. You're feeling to good right now. I looked, an hour 4 minutes had passed. I was thrilled! It was exactly what I wanted to see. The tiredness I had felt earlier was now just a bad memory. I was feeling good again. I reached the aide station and grabbed water 1st and then saw the cookies. Wonderful, store bought, hard and crumbly cookies. They were a sight for my sore eyes. Keep in mind, in the past 10 hours I had eaten a ham sandwich, pretzels, 2 1/2 power bars and more power gel than any one person should have to endure. But now I had a chance to eat a cookie. And I had my choice. Chocolate chip, sugar, oatmeal and some other unidentifiable kind. Normally I would know that they all tasted the same, hard and no taste at all but in this moment they looked warm and homemade. I grabbed the oatmeal looking one. It was hard and crunchy but tasted sweet and delicious. It was small but I was able to make it last 3 or 4 bites. I washed it down with gatorade and a sip of water. Uh, I don't think I'll ever forget that cookie. It was ssssoooo good. I heard my name on a loud speaker which made me think this was an important turning point. Probably the 10k marker. I then looked up and saw Michelle, Laura and Sheila yelling and cheering. "You guys are the best." I yelled at them. A couple of blocks before passing the capitol I heard Craig yelling. He had a choir of what I think were frat boys yelling with him. I looked up and saw him but as soon as I heard the chorus of voices my head immediately dropped down. I was laughing as I made my way by all the hollering. As I approached the turn around, 13.1 mile mark, some of the runners were actually completing their Ironman journey. I thought this would be tough for me to see the finish, but it wasn't. I felt good and was ready to tackle then next 2 hours + and become an Ironman.
Just after the turn around was runners special needs. I got my bag and dropped off the gel I was carrying and my sharkies. I felt good with the nutrition I was getting on the course and didn't want to carry any extras. I grabbed my long sleeved t-shirt and thanked the volunteer. I was off. How was I feeling so good? It had to be all the water and gel I took on the bike. I couldn't stop smiling now. I got a taste of the finish and knew I was going to make it. Saw Brian as I headed back to the campus. He was finishing up mile 10. He gave me a wave. Got to U W stadium again and the only thing hurting was my face. I tried to stop smiling but I couldn't. I was truly enjoying every step of this run. Don't get cocky I was telling myself, it's not over but with each step that I took I knew I was that much closer to my dream. Just after mile 16 my phone rang. It was Deb's. I missed picking up her call but called her right back. "Hey - I'm at mile 16 and can't stop smiling, my mouth hurts" I told her breathlessly. "You're at mile 16? Really! I was thinking you needed me, you don't need me." She said with excitement. "Call me in the morning. I'm watching on line - Love you." I said "I love you too best friend". Put the phone away. On my way back onto campus I saw Mike walking at an aid station. "I'm right behind you Mike. I don't want to startle you" I said. He told me his stomach was bothering him. We walked together thru the station. He took in some pretzels. I took water and gatorade. No cookies here. Bummer. Saw Doug on our way out. He was heading in the other direction. "Are you guys on lap one or two?" he yelled. Mike yelled 2 while I held up 2 fingers. It was good seeing Doug. The only members I had not seen were Herb and Tom. I saw Dennis 1st on the 2nd loop, then Scott but no Gil. Mike was behind me now, but not far behind. I ran the hill and said my goodbyes. The second time didn't get any easier. Got to the aid station and told the cookie lady I would pick one up on the way back. Made the turn around and saw Michelle, Laura and Sheila. They were still there. I was moving quickly now. Michelle was screaming "You're gonna be an Ironman"! I was shaking my head yes! I high fived all of them. I think I started floating at that point. I picked up a cookie, gatorade and water after leaving the girls. The cookies were still tasting good. It was dark now. I was running next to water and was pretty much by myself. I was passing the occasional runner who was now walking. I'm glad I could run at this point. It was dark and the lights they set up cast eary shadows along the path. I stopped to use the pap. And skipped walking the next aid station because of that stop. I was still smiling. I reached mile 24. I drank and ate and then called Scott. No answer. Called Keri. "I'm at mile 24" I said. "I'm keeping about a 10 minute pace. I'm coming in!" "Ok, we're right where we said we would be." Keri said. "Please tell Scott, I called him but he didn't answer." I said. "I will just go!" And I did.
I just went. Every step felt effortless. I could no longer feel my mouth, I think the smile was frozen on my face. I could hear the announcer and the cheers at the finish. I'm doing this I thought. I can't believe this is happening. I was told to take this part slow. I was going as slow as I could but was running. I could feel myself moving quickly but I could see the crowd and the capitol and park so clearly, like when you are riding in a car. I saw my sister and heard her tell Sam it was time to run. Sammy grabbed my arm and said "you're doing it aunt Pam, you're gonna be an ironman, no an ironwoman!" he said with a huge smile. I said come on Sam, let's cross together. We ran and as we turned the corner I saw my tri-mates for the last time. I saw each of their faces smiling, they were screaming GO!!! I let out a joyful scream and high fived all of them. I could hear all the people cheering. And then, in an instant it was quiet. And I heard the words I had wondered if I would ever hear, the words that Dennis, Gil, Doug and Scott I. typed to me just one year earlier to get me to do the race. "First time Ironman participant Pam Erickson from Frankfort, IL. Pam YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!