I was concerned I was hurting my Achilles worse by continuing to run, and was grappling in my mind with whether or not I should walk for a bit. I was also beginning to have tummy trouble. I ate one gel at the start of the run, but when it came time to fuel again I simply couldn't take anything down. I knew I needed to eat, but each time I tried pulling a gel from my pocket I started to feel a nauseous heave. I generally have no trouble with my nutrition and religiously take a gel every 45 minutes, whether I feel hungry or not. I must have been dealing with the after-effects of the swim water, since every time I ran close to the water or the stinky mud I felt I might hurl!
At this point I was heading into the 2nd run lap and I knew I was in trouble. I had to start drinking cola to settle my tummy and carry me through what I assumed, at this point, would be one heck of a long walk. Making the decision to walk in a race is so difficult, because I know myself well enough to know it means I've given up, and the chances of coming back around are slim. It is unbelievably deflating and feels like absolute failure. But between my tummy and my ankle, that’s how I felt - like I simply wanted to quit. I started walking, feeling pretty lousy about my choice except for the fact that my Achilles didn't hurt while walking.
I walked through the next aid station and suddenly rockmelon (aka cantaloupe) became my saving grace. A volunteer offered up a big bowl of melon, and suddenly I wanted that fruit like it was nobody's business. It was quite honestly one of the best things I've ever tasted in my life. I thought of how people often joke about the Ironman marathon being a 42k buffet, so I decided to embrace that for all it was worth and eat as much glorious Aussie fruit as possible. At every aid station I downed melon and orange slices and cola - and amazingly this helped my belly. I figured I was taking in enough carbohydrate and sugar to get me through the final two laps, at least at a walking pace, so I was encouraged to keep moving.
I walked for most of the entire 2nd lap, and when I reached the top of the big hill, my watch read 11:30. This had been my original secret goal time, and I still had one and a quarter laps to go. To make matters worse, the sun was setting and the volunteers pinned two mandatory glow sticks on my race belt. I’ve never been out past dark in an Ironman, so I was forced to suck in a big dose of humility and embrace the experience and eeriness of night running. Normally in an Ironman, there would still be a ton of athletes on course, but it was slimming down quickly in Port Mac. Everyone else seemed crazy fit, and I honestly worried that I might be the last finisher! Obviously, you need a certain amount of fitness to do an Ironman, but in the other races where I’ve competed, there has been a broader range of body types and athletic abilities. These people all just seemed like rock stars. Ben Stiller’s voice from the movie Zoolander kept running through my head – where he talks about being “really, really, ridiculously good-looking” – except I heard him talking about how every athlete from Australia was “really, really, ridiculously fit!” What I learned afterward is that everyone except the international competitors has to qualify to race here - it's one of only two IM's in the country and is basically the equivalent of a national championship – which explained why everyone was so dang fast!
As I came back past the transition area to head onto my 3rd and final lap, MJ and Pablo were there waiting to give me some much needed encouragement. I might have been crying as I told MJ how badly my ankle hurt. She asked me what I wanted to do and I said that I would finish even if it meant walking – despite the discomfort and the desire to be done, there was simply no way I would actually stop. MJ gave me a quick hug and said they'd be waiting for me - exactly the boost I needed to start running again. Even though my Achilles hurt on and off, I ran - at times strong and at times limping - the entire rest of the way, aside from walking through every aid station for my fruit and cola cocktail.
I decided that while I was out there in the dark, I may as well live it up a little on the last lap. I made a point of cheering on every fellow competitor I passed, thanking every volunteer and spectator and especially high-fiving all the exuberant little kids. The last few miles I pushed as hard as I could and was wincing in pain at points, but I wanted to finish strong and feel proud of pulling myself out of a deep dark hole. After the point where I received the glow sticks, I never once looked at my watch until I finished. My time was somewhere around 13:40 - over an hour slower than my previous worst IM time and 2 hours slower than what I know I'm capable of - but it simply didn't matter. What mattered was that I ran down the finish chute full of tears and smiles and such an overwhelming wash of emotion, and there was MJ, flu and all, waiting to put my medal around my neck and give me a massive hug.