Lots of you have been following Susan Lacke since she started writing posts for No Meat Athlete earlier this year. Ten days ago, she completed her first Ironman triathlon, less than a year and a half after losing 70 pounds on a vegetarian diet allowed her to run her first 5K. Here’s her recap of Ironman Wisconsin.
“Anyone can do an Ironman. Anyone.”
I was giving a friend a massage after he completed his 12th Ironman when he uttered those words. I had just told him how proud I was of him, and he minimized it like it was nothing more than a 100-meter jog.
“Pssht. Susan, it’s nothing. Anyone can do an Ironman. Anyone. Really, it’s not that big of a deal.”
I had just run my first 5K a few months prior, and admired my friends who did longer distances. My friend Steph had just convinced me to sign up for my first half-marathon, and I was enjoying the training for it. I was swimming and biking at my gym, and loved the cross-training benefits I was getting from those activities. Thanks to vegetarianism, I had lost a significant amount of weight, and thanks to my newfound life as an active person, I was continuing to lose more.
Call it a runner’s high. Call it temporary insanity. Call it whatever you want.
Anyone can do an Ironman? Anyone?
Count me in.
I recalled those exact words in the day leading up to Ironman Wisconsin. As I looked around at the pre-race festivities, I saw a lot of incredibly fit people.
They had impeccable bodies. They rode expensive bicycles and ran in top-of-the-line shoes. They walked and talked like they knew what they were doing. They devoured spaghetti with meatballs and whole rotisserie chickens in preparation for race day. They likely had never had any major health issues. Their worst vice in their past was probably the occasional candy bar.
And then there was me.
More than one person commented on my No Meat Athlete shirt at packet pickup, asking if it was serious or a joke. I got a few incredulous looks when I said I’d only been doing triathlons for about a year and a half. I was scared to mention much more about my past habits for fear I’d get laughed out of the race. I was a 27 year-old former chubbster girl in a sea of middle-aged overachieving men with rock-hard bodies.
Anyone can do an Ironman? Anyone? Heh. With me in the game, that statement was certainly about to be tested.
I remembered those words once again as I floated in the water before the start of Ironman Wisconsin. The sun was rising over the lake and things were remarkably calm. As I looked around me, I realized something:
Everyone in the water looked exactly the same.
In our black wetsuits, goggles, and swim caps, we were identical. The thousands of spectathletes lining the shore would be completely and totally unable to pick me out of the crowd of 2,556 athletes in the water. That anonymity was strangely comforting. Before, at packet pickup, I stood out like a sore thumb — I didn’t belong there. Race morning, with only my head bobbing up and down in the water, I certainly looked like an Ironman hopeful. I just hoped over the course of the day, I could prove I was deserving of being a part of that race. Silently, I reminded myself of my goal: Finish, have fun, and be a *&^%ing Ironman.
14 hours, 23 minutes, and 42 seconds.
On paper, it seems like such a long time.
In reality, those 14 hours, 23 minutes, and 42 seconds of September 12, 2010 went by way too fast. It was — dare I say? — fun.
Don’t get me wrong: it was challenging. There were parts that tested my abilities. I used muscles I didn’t even really know I had. But for something that was supposed to be a sufferfest, I never really suffered.
Maybe it’s because I trained well in the months, weeks, and days leading up to race day.
Maybe it’s because I raced conservatively and executed my race plan the way I was told.
Maybe it’s because I had the support and love of my incredible friends and amazing family members that day.
Maybe it’s because it’s really hard to suffer too much when you run out of the swim and everyone moos at you, or you have a crazy spectathlete in a pink speedo or an Indian headdress running alongside you up the hardest climbs of the bike, screaming “SUCK IT UP! DO YOU WANNA BE AN IRONMAN OR NOT?”
But I smiled and laughed a lot over the course of those 14-plus hours.
At about mile 15 on the run, I saw a lot of people begin to hit the proverbial “wall.” They began to cramp up, walk, and sit down at the aid stations. I was waiting for it to happen to me. At about Mile 20, I had been running alongside an athlete for about 5 minutes when I realized he was saying something to me. I looked at him and asked him to repeat himself.
“This feels like death. God.”
He dropped back and began walking while I kept going. As I looked at the trail ahead of me, I thought about what he said, and took stock of how I was feeling.
I’d never felt more alive than I did during that race.
The final stretch
I never hit that wall. I maintained the same pace at the finish that I did at the start. As I turned the final corner toward the finish, all alone, I saw a mass of humanity under the bright lights of the finish chute. For 400 meters, there were hundreds of people, all cheering, roaring my name, and beckoning me to the finish.
I started out the race as an anonymous part of 2,556 Ironman hopefuls. When I crossed that finish line, I was an independent racer. I was someone who achieved her goal.
I was an Ironman.
Anyone can do it. Anyone.
Every day, you probably wake up and use your muscles, your bones, and your skin without really thinking about it. If you take a moment to really consider it, you can be inspired every day. The human body is capable of accomplishing great things.
Your human body is capable of accomplishing great things.
Don’t take it for granted. Don’t simply be content with doing “just enough.” Don’t underestimate yourself. Whether it’s finally running that first 5K without stopping, contorting yourself into a complicated pose for yoga, hiking to the top of a mountain, or doing an Ironman, your body is capable of it. You only need to identify what it is you want, work toward it, get the support of friends and family, and — most importantly — believe it.
It no longer matters if anyone can do it.
What truly matters is that you can do it.
Thank you a million times over to everyone who sent me e-mails, text messages, Facebook messages, and cupcakes (ohhh, the cupcakes!) in the days leading up to the race. A HUGE thank you to everyone who was cheering for me on race day, whether in person or in spirit. I’m overwhelmed and humbled by all the support I got from you, and hope I made you proud.
Now that I’ve drank the Ironman Kool-Aid, I’m addicted. I plan on registering to do Ironman Arizona in fall of 2011. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to resting, recovering, doing some shorter races for fun, and, if you’ll let me, writing – I love providing you with information, experiences, and random thoughts to enhance your awesomeness as a No Meat Athlete.