IMAZ 2014 Journey!!!!
Our Ironman Arizona (IMAZ – 140.6 miles) journey began over a year and a half ago. My husband (Matt) and I began training together and quickly embarked on two half Ironman (70.3 miles) races in 2013-14 in Boulder, CO. As athletes throughout our lives (Matt was a multi-sport athlete who also dedicated most of his life to being a hockey player; I was a competitive swimmer/ballet, tap, jazz dancer/and pretty much experimented in all sports thanks to our supportive parents), I suppose we decided the next ultimate challenge would naturally be to sign up for a full Ironman distance race, right? Little did we know that this would end up being one of the most incredible physical, emotional, and mental challenges we could experience together.
Ironically I dreamed of competing in an Ironman practically my whole life. Before meeting Matt in 2007, I fell in love with spinning during college and became inspired by an instructor (Denise Druce) to do a Multiple Sclerosis (MS) century ride and another Breast Cancer fundraiser ride before even owning a bike. I ended up borrowing my cousins road bike that fortunately fit perfectly after simply training via spin classes (I didn’t have the slightest clue how to use the gear shifts, breaks, etc before the century ride). I felt great on the road keeping up with some strong and inspiring women, giving me confidence to pursue future events. While different life circumstances seemed to prevent me from signing up for more events (e.g., right knee injury/surgery resulting from a torn meniscus when training in 2005-07, right shoulder tear from years of competitive swimming particularly in the 200 IM, deviated septum procedure in 2010, a major feminine medical issue, moving often due to academia/professional career dedication), I felt thrilled to eventually get back into the sport.
Matt and I always enjoyed being active together in AZ (hiking, spin classes, traveling to engage in physical challenges, etc.) though it wasn’t until we relocated to CO that we found the spark for competition. Yet another hiccup in the road included a year-long separation while I worked overseas in England and Matt accepted a new position with USA Hockey. However, when I returned to CO in 2010 I eventually found myself signed up for my first competition and felt invigorated after competing in an all women’s sprint triathlon (tri for the cure) – thanks to a great friend (Beth Bushie) who was running for a relay team in the race. Again, I almost didn’t compete in the triathlon that came shortly after our first anniversary as a married couple and an unfortunate medical situation with my mom who incurred a significant stroke. Yet, my mom, knowing my life-long passion for athletics, insisted that I return to CO (after an urgent trip to Utah) and compete during her progressive recovery; fortunately at that point the medical staff deemed she was stable and discharged her from the hospital.
Around the same time that I competed in the sprint tri, I became even more encouraged to continue being a plant-based athlete; a decision I made in 2009 after reading ‘The China Study’ due to my genetic predisposition to multiple medical issues (family history of CVA, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, dementia, etc). I was about three years into making instrumental changes to my nutritional and physical well-being, after years of poor habits and self-sacrifice, that continue to shape my life today. The major turning point being my grandfather and two uncles passing, mom’s hospitalization, father’s challenges with diabetes, and brother’s fluctuation with gout. It was equally inspiring that my mom literally had me take her to the grocery store after being discharged from the hospital to show her how to lead a plant-based lifestyle which she continues to actively engage in to this day. She’s commended by physicians who express astonishment about her improvements. My father continues to make great strides, leaning into eating more plants regularly as well. Equally momentous was my brother’s experimentation with eating a whole foods plant-based diet and noticing that his gout ameliorated. Similarly my husband independently decided to join in the journey and became plant-based on his own timeline free of pressure, engaged in nutritional training with me, and continues to thrive as an amazing male role model who has maintained his gorgeous/tall/strong athletic physic.
Throughout our training and engaging in new healthy lifestyles things seemed to naturally fall into place and gave meaning to the phrase, ‘truly meant to be.’ First we became yoga certified instructors and Matt went on to complete an extensions class so he could teach. We found this practice important in balancing the physical/mental rigors of training; it was also the path of recovery from my injuries. Shortly after this life altering experience, Matt treated me to a community vegan class for our second wedding anniversary. It was at this time when we met the most wonderful and inspiring instructor/person who was a Vegan Life Coach and Educator (JL Fields). We quickly developed a kinship with our new like-minded friend, she discovered our interest in athletics, and connected us with her husband Dave Burgess who eventually became our Master’s Swim Team and Ironman coach (Podium Training Systems). Having a coach was instrumental in giving us specific and individualized training schedules. At the same time JL instilled a spark for additional nutritional training and we enrolled in the program she too completed with Main Street Vegan (MSV) Academy. While we were initially disappointed that the program would conflict with Ironman training in August (the only class with availability at the time), we were pleasantly informed that there was a last-minute cancellation and opening in the May 2014 course. We were ecstatic and found ourselves absolutely overwhelmed with joy about going to NYC, met the most phenomenal and supportive peeps, and graduated to become coaches – pursuing another life-long dream to be holistic practitioners/athletes; all while continuing to train and creatively find training facilities during travels and continuing to enjoy our love for living life to the fullest.
At this point training really began to amp up for our last events leading up to the ultimate IMAZ that we committed to after volunteering in 2013. Being a volunteer at the first bike aid station instilled the passion to sign up for this crazy awesome event the following year; we committed to standing in line at 4 am, the following morning after volunteering, with equally insane racers that we reunited with last weekend. It’s simply amazing to look back on that day and put things into perspective as we certainly over-idealized the future while also making it happen! Additionally thinking about all the amazing accomplishments along the way gives us great gratitude for the last leg that included: three sprint triathlons, two E-Rock century rides to raise money for disabled hockey, two half Ironman races in Boulder, the Pat Tillman fundraiser race in Tempe, a 10K race in Denver, 15K race in Denver, and each of us raising money for a variety of important causes (Matt raised money for Ice Hockey in Harlem and I contributed to Charity Miles for a variety of causes every run/ride during training).
The final months leading up to the event turned into a completely overwhelming and exciting whirlwind. Attempting to fit in training while working 10 hour work days with the Department of Defense in a highly demanding/stressful clinical/administrative role seemed relatively simple in comparison to what transpired from August-September before the race. Life became even more exciting accepting a new position as Director of a Psychology Department, with initial insurmountable demands that can complement any new role, at a hospital 65 miles from our residence. We decided that the new career opportunity was worth making enormous changes in our life in the midst of the months leading up to our race. Not only did training get dialed up a notch at the point of starting a new position, but we were also in the process of showing/selling our home in Colorado Springs (daily cleaning/packing along with flexible training), searching and purchasing a new home in Denver, commuting over three hours a day for several weeks (with a schedule that included a rise and shine at 4:30 am and down at 10pm – at times working out at lunch or anytime that could be squeezed in during the day), and constant packing/unpacking/washing/etc that requires a great deal of organization and planning.
Next came the preparation for traveling to IMAZ with an explosive amount of gear. First we needed to decide who to handle transportation. Initially we planned to drive with our bikes; though upon finding amazing SWA deals online ($40 one-way) and realizing the 12+ hour trek each way would be less than ideal after the race, we decided to fly and ship our bikes. We found the tribike transport company that seemed quite reasonable and user-friendly; in the end the company made our travels/bike transport seamless. Second was packing swim (wetsuit, swimsuit, goggles, caps, ear plugs, etc), bike (helmets, bike shoes, riding kits, sunglasses, etc), and run gear (shoes, hats, socks, etc) along with immeasurable nutritional products (mostly Vega that is a plant-based product that we love and have relied on in prior races) and casual clothing for the exciting warm temps in AZ. The timing of our travels was interesting as it was a record low of -4 degrees in CO the day we left and about 87 degrees in AZ. Strangely up to this point we could train outdoors due to the reasonable season change in CO. At the same time we found that fall training drastically fluctuated on a daily basis since the weather could make or break our Training Peaks schedule (except for swimming). We found ourselves becoming one with treadmill runs and indoor trainer rides while also begrudging the equipment because it couldn’t truly assimilate outdoor training.
With regard to accommodations we lucked out as dear family friends shared their condo with our family. I must say it feels a little strange staying in new places in AZ after selling my first condo located in Ahwatukee; we often drive by when in town to celebrate fond memories. Similarly we found that competing in AZ conjured up all sorts of emotions since it’s Matt’s birthplace, where we were first introduced by good friends (Mary Lu and Jim – who attended pre-school with Matt), began our lives together, and where I called home for over ten years during my doctoral studies. Oddly enough we hadn’t ever trained in AZ since we essentially picked up the sport in CO. We chose AZ for our first Ironman because it holds such important meaning in our lives and would be a perfect place for family and friends to join in the experience; there was the added bonus that AZ was apparently the most spectator and athlete friendly course for first timers.
Once all the details were in place, we simply needed to check-in at the registration tent and take care of pre-race essentials. We arrived on Wednesday before the race on Sunday. Our flight in CO was delayed due to the snow storm and we enjoyed sleeping in after arriving at 2am. The next day we went directly to our favorite plant-based café (Pomegranate) where we enjoyed a delicious brunch before heading to Tempe Town Lake to check-in for the race. We were greeted by a fellow Pikes Peak Tri Club trainer who took our picture and welcomed us to the event. We obtained our five transition bags that became our essential lifelines during the race, bib numbers, race chips, and extra goodies. It was at that moment when we realized that volunteers (over 4,000 this year) make the race happen and the first of countless ‘thank your’ began. We also made sure our bikes arrived and took them for a little stroll after the pedals were re-installed.
My brother arrived that night and ended up being quite the helper/caretaker throughout the racing events (Matt commented about his capacity to become an EMT). My parents arrived the following day and were also part of a huge support network that included my AZ family: uncle Mark and his partner Yolanda, cousin Danny, and Grandma Lonnie. Matt’s family (my mother-in-law Debbie, his sister Meg and husband Jay, aunt Susan, Granny, cousins Mea and Maddie, cousins Hillary and her daughter Justice) were also troopers the entire weekend. It truly meant the world to us having family support present during the race. There isn’t anything like having the roar of crowds and seeing the loving faces of famiends who have witnessed the ups and downs of life up to this point. We underestimated the power and motivation of such an event as a dear friend (Stacy) shared her son’s (Anthony who is 5 years of age) wish to become an Ironman, after hearing about our training, and made a special sign for us on the bike course. Several of our family members commented about the day being the ‘best experience’ and most inspirational event they’d attended in their lives which continues to give me goose bumps.
On Friday we cruised down to the athlete village with my brother where we stalked out some paraphernalia in the Ironman gift shop before going to a trunk sale nearby. The jersey I planned to wear was designed by SmashFest Queen that’s owned by a true hero and amazing plant-based athlete – Hilary Biscay. She posted on FB that she would have items for sale in her vehicle near the village. I messaged her and she sent the most genuine response, welcoming us to her trunk sale. Interestingly we saw her the year before and I was too awe-struck to approach her at that time. When we connected in a nearby parking lot to check out her amazing merchandise we ended up having the most down to earth conversation about our mutual and parallel plant-based/Ironman journey – a true highlight of the weekend since she paved the way for me in believing that having a plant-based diet was possible to do an Ironman (her interview on the Rich Roll podcast was momentous to me). My jersey contributed to the excitement during the race since people would see my jersey and yell – ‘go smash.’ It was particularly meaningful when I saw Hilary as a spectator and her husband as a competitor on the course shouting to many who wore the colorful ‘smash’ jerseys. After meeting Hilary we took another short stroll on the bike and ran/walked briefly.
Friday evening we joined both families, as is often the case during holiday visits, for a mexican dinner feast. We were filtering the typical questions, that we too asked in the beginning, about the distances of each sport, how long we thought it might take us to do the race, etc. On a side note, it was a new kind of experience to observe others enjoy margaritas and such while feeling confident to have committed to being alcohol-free several months before the event. While we weren’t big drinkers to begin with, it was one of the best feelings to be completely clear in our vision without any cravings whatsoever.
Family members expressed their excitement for us and desire to be present for any and all parts of the event. It was absolutely the most overwhelming feeling to have so many incredible family members and friends reach out to us throughout the adventures. In fact our dear friends whom we connected with during the Pat Tillman race offered to throw us a party the night after IMAZ to celebrate both the race and Matt’s 40th birthday; turning into a fun surprise orchestration for Matt. The outpouring of love, encouragement, and support overwhelmed us with the truest sense of appreciation we could have imagined.
Saturday began with a practice swim at Tempe Town Lake when we got the feel for the water temperature, crowds, and organized chaos that was about to ensue. We also hopped on our bikes one last time before checking them in and getting one last tune up. Visualizing the endless sea of bikes, that probably were worth thousands of dollars combined, was unreal; the energy of the crowds was full of positive nervousness and enthusiasm. We were feeling pretty good, the weather was perfect, and all we needed to do was drop off our 3 major transition bags that we put forth much effort organizing. The final prep included dropping off the special needs bags on the morning of the race. We also tried to stay off our feet after taking care of the essentials to save energy for Sunday. The afternoon seemed to pass by quickly as we met my family for a late lunch at one of our favorite pubs (Rula Bula) where we were able to use the Ironman meal voucher. We returned to the condo while family members perused their spectator ‘spots’ for race day. We relaxed and went to the jacuzzi before the ‘last meal’ when we ordered delish Thai food. The evening came to a close quickly with the plan to turn in at 8pm; though it was tough to fall asleep with our minds racing about the last details while knowing we needed much rest to survive the next 48 hours.
The alarm seemed to arrive quickly at the inhumane early hour of 3:30 am. However, we were up without hesitation to get our routine oatmeal, cup of coffee, water, and slip on our bike kits and warm morning clothes. My parents were up with a similar sense of eagerness, mom took pictures while dad volunteered to drop us off at the lake. We arrived before transition areas opened and had plenty of time to get the last-minute bags delivered and/or prepared. We got our bike tires pumped one last time and were able to use the lovely porto potties one time between errands. The only hang up for the morning was standing in line one last time for the latrine that had a lengthy 20 min line; not a good combo when you’re having a ‘pee emergency.’ At that point people were lining up to jump in the water while we were barely getting our wetsuits on; lesson learned to find a quicker latrine line. We ended up being one of the last peeps to jump in the water and as a result had to sprint to the starting point under the bridge that was about 100 meters away. At the same time, we got a good warm up under our belts and didn’t have to tread water for 15-30 min as most racers did who jumped in early.
The canon went off well before we reached the bridge, we exchanged one last kiss/hug and were off to the races with the MASS start; the pros left about 20 minutes earlier as they waited an extra 5 min for the stragglers entering the water due to crowds and one staircase entryway. Up to this point we only experienced wave starts in races and one transition area; needless to say the newness of the Ironman included a huge learning curve. While we were fairly nervous about the mass swim start of 2,600+ men and women, we actually seemed to have a slight advantage being at the back of the pack and missed most of the relentless beatings of the crowds. However, once I caught up to the packs, it became quite a battle and I found myself fighting through crowds of mostly men and received blows/kicks to areas all over my body. In fact I was kicked so hard on the forearm that I later discovered it led to a broken blood vessel. Fortunately my arm didn’t bother me until the marathon. Additionally, I took a nasty spill a couple of weeks before the race while training in the dark. I had a shiny hematoma on my right hip and strained my already bum right shoulder. I noticed my shoulder at swim practice two weeks before the race when it essentially gave out on me and I was almost understandably pulled from practice; though it got better with each rotation as the workout progressed. Luckily my shoulder didn’t give me problems on race day and I felt fantastic on the swim – going faster than imagined with a 1:17 finish; exciting to consider the obstacles and that I likely could have finished under my goal of 1:15 – a hopeful future aspiration.
I felt great after taking over 10-15 years off from the pool due to high burn out from competition (with a negative/hard-charging/relentless coach during high school), teaching, coaching etc. It has been a great feeling to get back in the pool and feel comfortable again; though I noticed a bit of a mental block several months before Ironman because my speed didn’t seem to change and I wasn’t keeping up all the time with the ‘fast’ swimmers; though all in all my dedication and perseverance seemed to pay off on race day. I felt particularly proud of myself to battle through crowds without anxiousness and find a steady rhythm on the return loop – going to the outside and simply enjoying the leisurely return loop. After glancing at my watch around the midpoint, I noticed that about 40 min had passed and speculated about my pace to come in under 1:20 which was my ultimate goal and I DID IT!!
Once I reached the last two bridges, I could hear the crowds roaring and began to pick up the pace a notch, feeling great. It was exciting to sprint to the stairs where volunteers were eagerly awaiting with helping hands and spectators were cheering on the athletes along the water front. Next came the volunteer wetsuit strippers that were working so hard that they were covered in grime, water, grass and who knows what else. I laid on the ground while a volunteer peeled me out of my suit which was a HUGE help since you feel pretty tired and dehydrated at this point. I quickly popped up, carried my wetsuit to the bike transition area, soaring through the crowds glancing for family spectators. I picked up my bike transition bag, headed for the tents, and saw my family on the bridge standing over the transition area that led to the biggest smile thus far. When I reached the tent, the volunteers took over and made the experience completely manageable; stating, don’t worry about a thing, I’ll take care of everything you need – putting your mind completely at ease. It was nice to sit down, clear my mind and mentally prepare for the 112 mile bike ride ahead. The volunteer went as far as to put my socks on, buckle my bike shoes, clip my helmet and more. I was hoping to keep the transition time under 7 min though afterward learned that it was 12+ minutes; though I was able to use the latrine, refuel, and get the proper gear/chaffing cream (CRUCIAL)/etc that was necessary for the road ahead.
After snagging my bike off the rack, I ran to the mounting line and off we went to the three loop bike course on the jig/jag roads to the beeline highway. The crowds again lined the bike path to the road and were full of amazing energy. I felt incredible on the first loop and returned to the Tempe area that was surrounded by massive crowds and gave me the energy to pull through two more loops. However, the climbs up the highway came with 30+ mile/hour winds and the sting/pains began to set in. Normally I was able to keep 17-20 mi/hour pace regardless of conditions and was proud of my improvements; though the winds were outside my control and affected the ultimate outcome. My right knee has given me pangs throughout training and I thought during the first loop that I might get lucky and be free of pain, however, the harsh winds lead to more strain in the push/pull efforts. I was also experiencing strange stomach aches and pains, finding it hard to keep food down. Fortunately I was able to force feed myself and maintain the calories needed (300+/hour) to continue and prepare for the marathon. It wasn’t until the run when I realized, running by the lake, that I was likely nauseated because of the dirty lake where I swallowed and snorted large quantities of water. I also wondered if the sugary ‘perform’ drinks were taking a toll even though I train with vega/nuun/etc, it simply isn’t the same when your body is use to clean/whole foods. Another major obstacle for the day was the battle with painful/relentless endometriosis, which has been an ongoing struggle throughout training; yet I was determined to power through and conquer the race under any circumstances.
The bright points that served as positive and important distractions included aid stations every 20 miles, my dear friend/her husband/and son cheering us on the first and second leg of the bike course, feeling humbled after an 84-year-old passed me on the road, noticing a blind athlete plugging along, and seeing a handful of amputee athletes that were rockin the race. It seemed like at each turning point, when you feel like giving up, you’re reminded of the massive training and dedication put forth thus far, the unreal obstacles that other athletes face to get to this point, and the spectathletes that meant the world to us at the end of the day. The second bike loop was particularly meaningful since our families were on the sidelines cheering us on. I waved, pumped my fist, stood up, and grinned from ear to ear understanding that it was all worth while at that moment. I also saw my hubby at the first aid station on that second loop which brightened my day because I knew he was ok and going strong. I quickly pounced on my bike knowing he’d catch me pretty quickly. Once he caught up to me, he said, ‘go smashfest queen’ and gave me the courage to try to follow his lead. I saw him coming down the hill as I had at least 10 min left up the hill, which ended up being the last time we’d see one another on the bikes.
On the third loop, I thought my knee was going to give out as I could feel my IT Band getting more compromised; additionally my ankles and feet were a bit strained from staying in the tribars a majority of the time and focusing more than usual on my technique. The mental games began and I noticed myself engaging in positive self-talk out loud and any mantras/songs that I could think of to finish under the dire conditions. While I was quite disappointed with my bike time since I was suppose to finish the bike course under 7 hours, I was happy that I avoided major obstacles with the exception of my ITBand; though when compared to racers observed on the side of the road with flats and an injured athlete that took a good spill and required an ambulance, I felt incredible gratitude that I was fairly free of major injuries.
Once I reached the last leg of the bike course, I felt thrilled to see the Tempe crowds one last time, ride over the Arizona flag platform, and finally dismount my bike where the volunteer said he’d take over at that point. My knee was in so much pain that I needed the volunteer to swing my leg over the bars. Fortunately, I quickly found my legs and ran for my run transition bag with one last time through the tents. I was able to transition quickly this time (under 7 minutes) and get my running legs under me efficiently thanks to my mental strength and positive attitude. The tent volunteers again were sensational, taking care of everything I needed. Upon walking out on the run course, the cheers were phenomenal and I quickly spotted my mom and mother-in-law who were chelaxin in their chairs though quickly popped up to cheer and take pictures.
Initially on the run my legs felt pretty good though the stomach pains/nausea set in again and I couldn’t keep down any solids; I even tried gu and found myself feeling worse. At the same time, I knew I’d need some calories to do the marathon. Therefore, I relied on energy drinks attached to my fuel belt, water at the rest stops that were every mile, and later found myself able to ingest oranges and grapes. The idea of chicken broth, coke, red bull and other options at the rest stops contributed to nausea; though it wasn’t until the last loop when I craved veg broth or something warm because I was shivering and experiencing chills – often blowing on my hands to create warmth. At the same time I knew my hydration was catching up to me since I needed to use the porto potty every other rest stop. At the same time, my pace slowed dramatically from my usual training because of the knee and wrist pain coupled with the slight bacterial infection that set in leading to stomach pangs. I thought I’d been stung/bitten by an insect or perhaps was experiencing poor circulation, when it dawned on me that another I got kicked pretty good on the swim 8 hours earlier which finally caught up to me.
After passing the six-mile marker, it was time to conjure up more mental and physical strength to do the run course a second time. The clumps of runners helped and I found myself finally able to pass a few peeps while sharing positive encouragement. However, as I came to the second loop the foot blisters began to set in. Again the refreshing distractions included seeing Matt’s family as his granny, aunt, and niece hugged me on the course. It was getting pretty dark at this point and I hadn’t anticipated the quiet/ominous/unlit parts of the trail. I then heard someone shouting my name and saw my husband on the other side of the course. We stopped briefly for him to share that he incurred a pretty significant knee injury on the bike and was struggling to simply walk. I asked if he was ok to keep going and he expressed confidence with the reality that it may take him longer than anticipated. I shouted “I love you” across the park and volunteers expressed happiness for us. I felt tempted to repeat the second leg of the run with him; though he was encouraging me to move forward with my progress.
It was about that time when another runner (Jenny) caught up to me and was keeping the same pace. We ran side by side for a meter or so when I thanked her for the motivation to continue pacing and she shared similar emotions asking if it was ok to stick together; it was a relief to finally have a mutual experience. We then passed family in the busy run section and I experienced an inspirational sensation by everyone’s cheers. It was at that point when I felt the best on the run and our pace got dialed up a notch. I was particularly inspired when Jenny shared her husband’s story as an amputee athlete. We quickly got to know one another and felt so motivated that we’d take latrine breaks and wait for one another. It wasn’t until the last six miles or so that we expressed exhaustion to one another and decided to speed walk together. Volunteers and spectators noticed and cheered on our team effort that truly gave us the inspiration to finish strong.
At about the final two-mile marker we decided to resume running and found our legs to be pretty stiff; though we persevered to cross the finish line running. I could feel my blisters popping at this point with the pounding and jolting. As we approached the finish line we could hear the roars and Mike Reilly’s voice booming. We began to strategies about the finish line, each sharing that the other should finish first. Jenny graciously said I should go first since I’m a first timer and she was coming up on her third full Ironman race. As we reached the last hill before the finish line curve, I saw my brother wrapped up in blankets cheering me on and running toward family to let them know about my arrival. I then noticed my uncle, brother, mom, dad, mother-in-law, and sister-in-law holding out their hands, shouting and cheering me on to the red carpet. I felt overwhelmed with happiness, joy, contentment that I pumped my fists in the air and welcomed the bleacher crowd cheers that were soaring. Hearing the words, “Ashley Bittle, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN” were music to my ears and the BEST feeling in the world to know that I was a finisher – an absolute dream come true.
After crossing the finish line you’re quickly rescued by a volunteer whom you hug as they wrap you in a tinfoil blanket and ensure you’re medically stable. You then go for a ‘finisher’ picture and are directed to the food tent. I quickly turned around to search for Jenny who was hugging her husband. I quickly thanked her for the inspiration and mentioned to her husband how amazing our experience was together (I later tracked her down via social media and we exchanged thankful messages to one another and are now FB friends). In hindsight I wish we would have captured a picture together though it’s easy to get caught up in the hustle bustle; plus I wanted to get to my family and track down Matt’s pace and location. A kind volunteer handed me french fries and I devoured them while approaching my family at the finish line to embrace and share in the sense of accomplishment; my brother, mom, and dad squeezed me tightly and shared how proud they were of my perseverance in the midst of obstacles. I then shared with my brother and sister-in-law that Matt may need some motivation to finish strong before the deadline because of his pain/injury. They agreed to run down and cheer him on so he could muster up the courage to finish strong. The website tracking was fortunately a bit off as we became worried about his pace at the 23 mile marker. I knew in my heart that Matt would want to finish before midnight and I kept sharing with family that he’s strong and absolutely capable of doing it. I wanted so badly to run down and pace with him though my legs simply wouldn’t allow me to move any further. I also began to experience a bit of guilt for not staying with him; though remembering that he encouraged me to ‘get after it’ and finish strong was reassuring.
After a bit of anguish, I saw my brother running up the hill sharing that he was coming around the corner with plenty of time to finish. A swarm of emotion engulfed me as I pulled out my phone and began snapping photos while screaming at the top of my lungs for my fierce and strong hubby who was running on a limp leg. He was grinning and finishing with his hands high in the air. I ran down to the finish line to greet him and we embraced sharing our love for each other – the same way we started the race several hours earlier. I then helped Matt get some food and signed us up for a quick massage. He was shivering and experiencing chills afterward so we went to the medical tent to make sure that he was stable. Our family members banded together and rallied to take good care of us, particularly my brother who ensured that our transition bags/bikes were picked up, got us in the car and wrapped us up in blankets – he later massaged Matt’s feet for over 20 minutes so he could fall asleep. While I was feeling pretty good Matt experienced deep sweats and shivering for the next few nights. The day after pains were initially relentless, however, upon moving and circulating our bodies, we began to feel better by the minute. Oddly I even felt good enough to work out yet refrained knowing it was time to enjoy the recovery.
All that was left were celebrations! Matt was under the assumption, the night after our race, that we were simply meeting family for dinner after a quick drink with friends. He was quite surprised when we entered Shelly and Anthony’s stunning downtown loft where family and friends gathered for cheers. He smiled in disbelief and we enjoyed the rest of the evening commemorating the race and his 40th surprise birthday party. Our friends were incredibly gracious welcoming our families into their home, providing endless plant-based hors d’oeuvres, and sharing a lovely evening together. We closed the evening with cake cutting on the roof top (I ordered a vegan chocolate/peanut butter cake from NAMI), a toast, and thanked everyone for coming together to partake in the special events.
We then returned to the condo to pack up the plethora of gear again for our flights the next morning. We also pulled together as a team to clean the condo so our friends would return to their snow bird home with ease. While we arrived at the airport early to drop off my brother and the rental car, we learned that our flight was two hours delayed. Due to Matt’s limp the airline kindly allowed us to board early so he could do so with ease. After boarding the flight we learned there were mechanical problems that delayed the flight another hour. We tried to rest as much as possible before finally taking off and landing in Denver where we b-lined to our favorite vegan restaurant (Watercourse) and had one last celebration dinner before returning to reality. Afterward Matt headed to our CSprings home while I stayed in the Denver rental which was somewhat anticlimactic as we fell back into the daily grind.
Settling back into the usual routine has been a challenge, likely because of the incredible high and surreal feeling associated with our accomplishment; coupled with an amazing sense of gratitude for the most positive experience of our lives. At the same time, it truly puts the important aspects of our lives into perspective with a strong desire to attain a constant sense of love for moment to moment living. Similarly we hope to replicate the passion experienced at the race and finish line by attaining that sensation on daily basis in our personal and professional lives. It’s a lesson in life that helped me realize when we are surrounded by optimism, positivity, gratitude, and confidence we can accomplish anything we set our minds to. Thank you to everyone involved along the journey as there simply aren’t enough words nor enough space to express the profound sense of joy we shared with everyone who helped us accomplish our mutual goal as #ironcouple.