With Ironman Chattanooga almost two weeks in my rear view, I hasten to document the experience of taking my body over 144.6 miles by water, by wheels, by feet.
I am starting with thank you:
God. For blessing me with a healthy, mobile body and a heart for endurance. For the beautiful planet we inhabit including the soil and mountains and water that reside in your gorgeous city of Chattanooga, TN.
Cameron. For asking your soldiers to change the world in a way that is changing us. For giving your SpeakUp race team purpose and push and hope. For your smile and hug that I miss so much.
My husband and children. For never complaining about the time Ironman training took away from you. For believing in me 100% of the time. For being proud of me when I couldn’t be.
My teammates. So much life lived together. So much more to go. For the symbiosis that became one body, one heart on that course. Same tears. Same smiles. Same pain. Same purpose.
My friends. You know who you are. You texted. You called. You posted. You sent your positive vibes. You donated. You stayed up late, very late waiting to see me finish. You told me you were proud of me. You made me feel special even when from the back of the pack, I couldn’t feel it so much.
Swim. With the aid of a downriver current. It was amazing. The usual slug fest from hundreds of arms slicing out a freestyle stroke to get to T1 had me sending light and love to the dude who slammed my head 4 times. GET IN YOUR LANE. Oh wait we were sharing one big lane. Best part was starting with my sister. Staying close until we knew we were each okay was a highlight. And guess what, once we told each other ‘I Love You, I’m okay.’ It was head down and GO. We still finished within a couple of seconds of each other. I’ll take her pace any day of the week. I’ll take her courage and heart and light. If only.
My baby sister… no words.
Bike. Beautiful hilly course with a ton of elevation change. I felt strong. I made some decisions that cost me some time but mostly I was prepared and confident. I still don’t know why Chattanooga requires 116 bikes miles instead of the usual IM 112. I need to work on nutrition but mostly I was glad it was done and felt lucid enough to smile as I started the gawd-awful run.
Run. After about 7/8 miles of relatively flat, there are 3 hills so steep they punch you in the chin. And you get to do it twice. At the half marathon mark, athletes have access to a ‘special needs’ bag which contains items to help you stay strong and motivated to keep (in my case) slogging it out. When I packed my special needs bag, I decided that Trident, bubble mint gum might be just the thing to motivate me to keep going. I love gum. In this case, gum doesn’t work. I was wrong.
About halfway, I experienced GI issues that NOTHING seemed to cure. After stopping 4 or 5 times to preserve the color of my shorts for the finish line pic (gross. Sorry for the non running readers. There is no dignity left.), I started to see that indeed I would make it.
Not before I enjoyed this script on auto pilot in my head:
Here I go again. I am so slow all my teammates have to wait a VERY long time for the likes of me to finish.
This is the stupidest thing I have ever done. Who do I think I am?
I did NOT want to go this mentally low since my Challenge Roth experience, and here I am, again.
My teammates and I went to ironman camp over the weekend. The pic below is proof we survived.
We are repping the Cameron K. Gallagher Foundation through the SpeakUp Race Team, an organization dedicated to erasing negative stigmas associated with teenage anxiety and depression and to providing help and hope through education and positive activities at either Ironman Chattanooga or Ironman Louisville this fall.
Nestled in the hills near Charlottesville, Virginia is Wintergreen, a resort for Mid Atlantic skiers to whet their appetite for real western mountains and wintertime adventures. It is also Mt. Everest to me.
There are breweries, wineries, and spas galore. Do not be fooled by the fluffery and fun that can be had at this resort.
Last weekend was NO VACATION.
There are many details to share about how I worried an ulcer in my gut for the anticipation of the workouts (exaggeration) and how much I LOVE the people I am training with (not an exaggeration) and why I am on fire to complete this race (TRUTH). But I will spare you those.
This is a candid moment of the bike route description with Coach/Friend Parker Spencer (famous rising star in the triathlon world, good friend, good person, good-god-does-he-push-us guru of fitness)
Following are some highlights:
It’s the climb. I don’t know the grade or the elevation of the bike course but I will tell you I have never gasped for and choked on my breath AT THE SAME TIME. I have very generous thighs but my heart and lungs were being very stingy. This lasted a long while. Additionally, I have never considered pulling over on a downhill for sheer terror. Check. Considered but not done. White knuckle grip and positive self talk got me to flat land.
Profanity does help. I am not proud of it and it’s not pretty but I can tell you when Parker said we’d likely be cussing him during the second leg of the bike route he was right. I do not however, think he was prepared for the rotten filth that actually tumbled out. And I liked it. That is all. Suffice to say we had to explain to our English learning Spanish compatriot who joined us for the weekend what some of the phrases meant. He just turned 18. I said I wasn’t proud.
Sleep makes everything better. The bike experience was rough. We witnessed a cyclist, whom we did not know, being air lifted to help after he tumbled down a deep ravine at a sharp switchback. He survived but it was serious. After we settled down from that and had an appropriate fit, we relaxed, whined and wined a little and tried to get rest for day 2 of camp fun. And like the cussing, it worked. Parker prepared a perfect run course and provided feedback for all campers as he rode the loop on his mountain bike. We then received awesome swim feedback and performed drills to improve technique at the resort pool. We all then hopped in the hot tub to debrief with weekend and talk through our upcoming races.
Indoctrinated. You know you are cyclist if you belly laugh to this:
It wasn’t for anything good. As a yoga teacher, I know it is disingenuous to rate the poses or practice as good, bad, or great. However I do not mind being told my down dog is the bomb or my camel, dancer, or pigeon pose is on point.
The middle little girl in me still likes a pat on the back, a nod, some attention that she is special. But not like this.
Last week I tried out a new yoga studio. It is posh, lovely, soothing, and smells good. It attracts the hipster millennials who live in its cool urban hood. When I noticed my teacher looked like Simone Biles, the gold medaling megastar gymnast and was about Simone’s age, I thought I’d be in for a real athletic and dynamic workout. I had already started thinking how my practice would certainly stun her stunning self (so not yogic).
As is customary in many studios there were no mirrors. By my calculations, on the inside I am about 27. On the outside I am actually 48. Apparently without the help of mirrors, I forgot what the outside said. Because the next thing happened.
In a new studio I never know how each teacher will incorporate the use of props in the sequence. I do not need them but I find them to be great tools to deepen a pose or provide spatial reference or just give my ASSana a soft place to land if I want to. So I gathered a few to have at-the-ready near my matspace. (I made that word up – like a millennial would)
After the usual centering activity Simone brought us up to (wait for it…) table top – to start our moving practice. I think she thought it might be too much for me.
Simone then explained while looking AT ME that if our knees hurt we could roll our mat up a few times to provide some cushioning. Or, we could use a blanket underneath to soften the blow to our knees. She didn’t say it but she implied – like those of us with more advanced body parts. She even came over to me (only me) with said soft blanket to offer her geriatric follower some relief. I giggled like the school girl I think I still am and told her I was fine.
Some might call it a sweet gesture, others might call it ageism or profiling. Most would might call me petty.
But I couldn’t help it. What I wanted to say is: Look b*tch, I have been holding tabletop and plank longer than you’ve been alive. Have you seen my tattoo?
I proceeded to put so much zest into a slow hatha yoga with meditation class that I made myself sore – serves me right.
I temporarily forgot that the face that chatted Simone up before class looked like this:
I had just had a number of skin cancers removed and am wearing new but healing scars. I can’t blame my yoga teacher that she may have thought that mostly happens to old people. Because it does. Compared to my waiting room compatriots for the procedure, I am millennial.
I am old. I am young. I am whatever. Age isn’t a thing – it’s me that made it so.
Maybe the gymnast in Simone look-alike saw the efforts my body made to be strong and vital and healthy and thought I could use a rest.
Maybe she felt a tug at her heartstrings that I may have been through something recently and could use some extra softness.
Whatever it was, it was just (what for it…) nice.
For the record, I would go back. Maybe my next teacher will be her:
Warning: Long post, but 140.6 miles is a long way to go. Thanks for taking the time to read.
A long time coming with purpose that cannot be over played, Challenge Roth 2016 in Germany was an epic adventure. My first full-distance triathlon, my first trip to Europe, my first time turning 48. My first days after crossing the finish line are fresh with hope and intention and inspiration. I have almighty God, a mighty fight by my niece, and the magic blessing of love from my family and friends, teammates and strangers to thank for this life I now have after the race. This is one of those defining events that marks life before July 17, 2016 and after. I hope this happy hangover never goes away.
After a severe OWPA (Open Water Panic Attack) during the practice swim, I was filled with dread the nasty monster would again take up head space during the actual swim 2 days away. Because our teammate who triples as a nationally known coach, race director and endurance sports entrepreneur, got back in the water to talk us back from the OWPA ledge I started to believe I could keep my head clear of the water demons. So I did what most might. I had a beer for lunch.
My mantra that was engine for the swim was: All Good. No Doubt. Go. Go. Go. Compliments of my sister, Mary-Suzanne. It was the exorcism to the OWPA monster who rattled my front door during the race but never got in. Because I have poor sighting skills am an over-achiever I swam 2.8 miles instead of the required 2.4. Oh well. I was still (super) happy with my time.
The course was magical – through towns so picturesque and quaint, God owes me nothing for the dreams of Europe He planted in my head when I was a little girl. I had technical issues (lost chain at the bottom of a major hill which I cranked up with no momentum from a previous downhill, mistakes with water bottles, cages that didn’t hold and general nutrition probs. I have A LOT to learn here) that stole time but not enough to keep me from the cut-off.
The legendary Solar berg hill is as astonishing as Roth veterans testify. They say the energy from the crowd pulls you up that hill in Froome and Frodo fashion. I say I knew my quads had a ton to do with it but the push from the crowd who loves their country and their race kept the legs churning.
After 112 miles, and more hours than I expected, I happily turned my bike over to the volunteer to start the final leg of the race of my life so far.
During a pre race pep talk, my dear friend Beth Risdon shared that the key is to learn to ride the wave of the day. Don’t get to comfortable in the highs and know the lows will pass. You need to stay mentally strong and believing that things won’t necessarily get worse when you are struggling.
Because of a nagging foot injury I had a run/walk race strategy from the start. I felt pretty good and settled in to that for the first 4/5 miles. Slowly but surely I began to break down. My painful foot and GI issues plagued my run. As I passed the half marathon mark I knew I wouldn’t get pulled from the course but I also knew unless I picked up speed I may not make the Roth-specific 15 hr time requirement. Ironman time limit is 17 hours.
The Darkness and The Light
While on the last out and back at about mile 17/18 the sun began to set. As I entered a stretch of trail I took the head lamp and started to mentally and spiritually break down. I knew all of my team mates were finished or almost and realized there were absolutely no other runners near me. It occurred to me that the ones behind me were pulled perhaps at the half way mark and I started to believe they were the lucky ones. (I am not minimizing the terrible feeling of being pulled off a course that has your heart and soul all over it but whereas I was well into the run… 18/19 miles at this moment I still had a shit-ton to go)
I was alone in a foreign country with a very painful foot and stomach issues. Course support was just about nil. No water. No food. No cell phone. No light. No one.
I exited the woods about mile 20 still very much alone.
Keep moving forward. Keep moving forward.
I reached a stretch of soft pavement by a lovely during-the-day canal and saw blessed volunteers breaking down what would be the last opportunity for water or calories. I desperately needed both and knew my body would gobble them up faster than the finish line loomed.
Don’t stay in the lows. Don’t stay in the lows.
Grace is worried about me. What if my legs buckle and I can’t move? There is no food. There are no people. I have no cell phone. I still have 4/5 miles left. I am alone in a foreign country. No light. No food. No people. Depleted…. almost.
I toyed with shame an embarrassment. No one wants to be the sweeper or the last teammate. With the SpeakUp Race Team, I am in company with Kona kings, Could-be-pro’s, and born-to-swim-bike-run athletes with heart, moxie and staying power who eat pain to help others. I may not have speed but I refuse to be the weak link. I did not want to be pitied. Pride poked through my madness but quickly left when I needed to stay in the moment to make it. Pride took up precious space in my constitution until it left with this prayer. (remember I am still very much in the race. At this point it’s my race I am going for Ironman time.)
God, I know I am in your Grace. But I am afraid. Help me.
Within moments a gentlemen came behind me and asked in broken English if he could Finish This with me.
God, really? That was fast.
In true Cameron Gallagher fashion, I said to him: “Let’s Finish This.”
Jean-Marie is from France, a 3-time Challenge Roth Finisher with a number of impressive races under his belt. I am in very, very good company in every way. We have each given over to mostly walking with a few stretches of jogging. It is mile 22.
Two strangers, one an angel to another. We knew we’d Finish This and likely in Ironman time. Along the way he learned about our amazing SpeakUp Race Team, our purpose and our maker. I learned his family has been dealing with mental illness for quite some time.
I have a spot in Paris for my family to visit and a free tour guide.
He taught me to be proud of myself. I taught him about the changing face of depression and mental illness drawn by Cameron. We held each other up – he more than I, I feel sure. But together, nonetheless, we fought the good fight. We finished the race. And with a little help from a friend, we kept the faith.
My team. My husband. My BFF in Boulder. My friends. My children. My siblings. My parents. My collective extended team family. My Coaches. My niece, my Cameron. All.
You are my all in all.
They don’t give out Ironman medals at Challenge Roth. Our Moose gave me his. Our Jeff gave me his commemorative finisher’s beer stein. This belongs to Us. All of Us.
Here’s his medal
Thank you, Moose
Challenge Roth taught me what God’s been trying to show us all for all time.