I am currently recovering from a tough ride of 80+ miles that was all hills and wind! Now I'm resting and watching the Masters before I head out to AZ to watch friends race Ironman tomorrow.
Through the course of the week I've been thinking about my experience at Arizona last year. The obvious: it was brutally windy, I wasn't as prepared as I should have been (or thought I was) and I finished.
I'm going to ramble here, so please bear with me...
When I look back on it, there were so many things that happened that were a result of things leading up to it or happened as a result of it. I found out a lot about myself and others. I discovered that I had (and still have) an amazing support group of family and friends. I made new friends along the way. And I affirmed that some people are jackasses and will always be jackasses. There are always a few people who will take advantage of your lowest moment and try to crush you while you're down. I'm happy to report that that person has no influence on my life at this point...I have grown beyond that. But for every asshole out there, there are many more wonderful people who will help pick you up along the way, walk with you...share moments of happiness, pain and happiness again.
It was an amazing day - bright and beautiful. The early morning tension and energy was palpable. I remember realizing that it was time to put on my wetsuit and I was trembling the entire time...took me FOREVER to get it on!
I remember everyone climbing down into the water and I was a bit hesitant until something caught my eye. There was a middle-aged woman standing among the athletes and I thought, "that's odd, what's she doing here?" Then I realized she was watching her daughter climbing over the wall at which point she reached down as her daughter turned to her and handed her her prosthetic leg. At that point, for me, there was no turning back.
I remember feeling incredibly nervous as I heard the cannon fire for the pro-athletes thinking, "Oh, my God...we're next!" The cannon fired again and we were off. It was like swimming through a washing machine and shortly after we began I got scared and a bit freaked. I turned over on my back for a quick moment and told myself, "you've done the distance many times, you know you can do this, besides this is freakin' Ironman and you just started...you can quit yet!!"
After that moment, I began to relax into my swim and really felt great. I started to get a bit tired toward the finish, but really was comfortable.
The bike is a suppressed memory as the Arizona winds demolished my legs and destroyed my spirit. Here is where my training lagged (I came to realize). I can honestly say that I did not want to go back out for the third lap, but at that point I thought, "well, I only have one lap left...may as well do it." So reluctantly I headed back out. But by then I was devastated and then someone starts asking me when the cutoff is and even though I wasn't in danger of missing it (unless I stopped or something) I started to have incredible doubts and concerns.
When I made it back to T2 I sat down and started to cry...yep, I cried at Ironman. I know, I know...there's no crying in Ironman!! But I did...and for 20 minutes I debated whether or not I could finish this thing I started. I decided that I couldn't quit (at the support of a wonderful volunteer and her daughter).
I headed out for the run. Halfway through my first lap I was numb but plodding along when I ran into (ha ha, "ran into") a guy I had met a couple of times back home. Oh, how relieved I was to find someone I even remotely knew. So Charles and I continued our plodding together until he reached his finish and then I headed back out for my final lap.
Along the way my sister, Becca, my brother, Robert, and my dearest friend, Sandra (who comes to ALL my big events) greeted me with smiles, cheers, signs and at one point they were all wearing Mickey Mouse ears!!! And every time I came around they would tell me who had called to check on me, who called to wish me well...I had so much support, it was truly overwhelming!!
On the last lap, I came upon an older gentleman who had accomplished a dozen Ironman finishes before this one and who had earlier been knocked off his bike by the fierce winds. We chatted and before I knew it, we were at the bridge - the final stretch!! As we were about to make our final turn he turned to me and said, "This is your first Ironman, right?" Then he told me to go ahead so that I could have that special moment to myself. I almost don't even remember the finish, it's such a foggy memory. But I do remember hearing Mike Riley say, "Michelle Lapuente, you are an IRONMAN!" Remembering that gives me chills and brings tears to my eyes.
I remember crossing the line and Rafael was there waiting for me with a big hug! Becca, Sandra and Robert were there, too. As I write this, I can't help but let the tears flow. I cannot convey the feelings that I have from that day. It was wonderful, terrible, hard, devastating, amazing...all at once. It is truly something special to accomplish, even if you're outcome is not what you hoped...if you give it best you have on the day, that's all you can ask for and makes you a better person along your journey of life.
I am heading to the airport in a little bit to go cheer on my friends, many who will be do their first Ironman...I can't wait to share the experience with them.
In no particular order - the people most special to me during Ironman Arizona 2007:
Becca, Robert, Sandra, Esther, Art, Rafael, Charles, Steve, John, Scott, Mom, Dad, Jen, Kate, Nikki, and others I'm sure I have failed to mention. Thanks to all of you!!