What was I thinking attempting a full Ironman recently? With no triathlon experience, an old ankle injury, and a restless mind, this Maui surfer girl was in way over her head. My girlfriend has done three prior Ironmans and said she’d help me train for this Florida one, saying “Hey it’s the easiest Ironman course on the circuit. Go for it!” I wouldn’t put “easy” and “ironman” in the same sentence, but I admit, I’ve used “small Jaws” in a sentence to describe some of my sessions at Jaws. Surfing Jaws is one thing, the ironman takes super human stamina and this ADD brain would have to focus on a task
for seventeen hours, ya right?! I must be crazy to test these limits in myself? So for the past year, Chrissy and I have been training hard together. We’ve travelled to outer islands for bike rides. We’ve done ocean swims with our dog Luna and masters swim workouts in the pool. We’ve ran before sunrise to avoid Maui’s heat. The preparation and pre-race jitteres were harder than the race in my opinion. Finally it was time to pack up our gear and head to Panama City Florida.
The swim was
INSANE! Well really the 112 mile bike ride followed by a marathon was equally
nuts! But as an avid waterwomen, I got a big thrill out of swimming with three
thousand athletes on that two mile rolly ocean loop. What a rush to swim in a
sea of neoprene and bright green and pink swim caps. While taking in the moment, I literally took
in gulps of sea water with every other breath. The ocean was morning
sick the day of the race and it was making me sick too. Luckily I trained in Maui’s rough waters so I
felt right at home (besides swimming in a full wetsuit).
One of my
favorite images during the swim was seeing the sunrise between the high rise condos along the Florida coastline between strokes. The sunrise calmed down my adrenaline. It
seemed so surreal that I was in the middle of three thousand swimmers in sixty
degree water attempting my first triathlon.
When three hundred days of the year I’m in a bikini floating on a surfboard
with a few students in tow. This was far from that peaceful ocean. I ended up surprising myself when I later learned that I finished
the swim in a decent time: one hour and fifteen minutes – twenty third in my
Ahh the bike.
It was a relief to start the bike. I trained mentally and physically the most
for the long ride ahead. I knew I would spend at least seven hours in the saddle and
in the aero position primarily since it was a flat course. I got a little
worried about my pace, when in the first mile of the bike ride, a middle aged
woman blew past me riding a spiffed out “Huffy-style” bike with a kickstand on
it. I later coined her “kickstand lady”
and surprisingly never saw her again.
112 miles of
flat highway miles = BORING! But I learned to amuse myself along the way. Lucy Woodward, our MSG surf instructor and a
multi-continental touring cyclist, suggested I play memory games while I
rode. She said I’d be entertained for
hours by picking a random date in my life and recount what I was doing and
feeling on this date. It sparked a flood of entertaining memories, but
this ended up occupying maybe one accumulative hour. I believe I recited my favorite Yogananda
affirmation for psychological success at least twenty times. Exhaustion and delirium were setting in. But oohhh the relief I felt getting off that bike seat in the transition area.
It was all I could do to peel off my sweaty bike shorts and put on my
running shorts and shoes.
marathon! Being that my doctor told me I couldn’t run on my ankle again after my fall – I
was scared to put it through the marathon. Little did I know that
my lower back and hamstring threatened to seize up on me for most of the marathon before my ankle gave me trouble. I could barely walk upright after being
in the crouched over aero position for seven hours. On the first mile of
back pain I began to question if I’d even finish. Then I remembered what
my physical therapist told me. The minute a negative or doubtful thought
entered my mind, replace it with a positive stream of thoughts. Or in my case,
talk to others in the race and make new friends! By the end of the race I had
new facebook friends, a lot of life stories, and buddies who shouldered each
others pain to the finish line.
The run was
two-13 mile loops. Hearing the cheers of
the crowd, city lights, and “you are an Ironman” echoing through the course was
like a mirage. The lowest point of my race
was the moment I realized that these people weren’t cheering for me. Sadly the people cheering didn’t know who was
finishing and who was on their first lap. I had to say a couple times, “Thanks
but I’m on my first lap.” I’ll never
forget on mile 14, mentally struggling to cope with the second loop, this
little boy looked me square in the eyes and said in the most sincere,
enthusiastic tone, “You are going to be an ironman!” I believed him and got another wind of
From mile 15
until the end, I realized that this is anyones race. I witnessed the fittest athletes on their
hands and knees puking on the side of the course. Then I’d walk/run with
several fifty-sixty year olds and athletes twice the size of me. I gained strength from witnessing the incredible
willpower of all these athletes. I even
saw a woman in full fire fighter gear with a tank on her back running this
marathon. What an inspiration! If she can get through this race, then I could
get through my spasming back and hamstrings, arthritic ankle, and the
incredible chaffe between my legs.
Thank God for vasoline!
A parade of
goosebumps ran up my legs when I heard with great relief and almost disbelief…“You
are an ironman!” The announcers voice
resounded louder and louder through the lit up streets. My
footsteps became more perky along with my conversations with two other athletes
that had carried my hopeful spirits and long winded stories to finish this
On the last 100
yards of the race, a blue barricade on either side was lined with cheering
spectators. Blurry fist pumps and arms
reaching out to me came into focus for those last footsteps. It was all the strength I could muster to raise
up my hands to meet their high-fives running by. In sixteen hours and 24 minutes, almost awaking
from a dream, I hear, “Dustin Tester – You are an ironman”. I felt like collapsing the second I crossed
the finish line. I was immediately
draped with a foil blanket, a medal, and cameras aimed at me.
If there was
one thing I learned from my Ironman experience is that the power of the human
will comes not only from the mind, but from the heart. Those athletes really touched my heart and
gave me strength to finish this Ironman.
Witnessing their strength boosted mine.
I was also so thankful to have a supportive girlfriend to inspire me to
do this race. She believed in me from
the start and pushed me to train when I was doubtful and overwhelmed. I learned that I’m much more than the
“limitations” of my ankle injury and my ADD brain. As the Ironman saying goes…”Complete
an ironman, and you have bragging rights for life.” I
don’t plan to brag, but I plan to take this inner strength with me for life and
hopefully inspire others to do the same.