“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.” - Ambrose Redmoon
A marathon is roughly 41,280 steps and I knew I’d be walking most, if not all of them. My legs felt great coming out of T2. Having to pass the finish line, the huge crowds and my family made it hard to hold back. I really wanted to run but remembered the MRI my doctor showed me right before leaving for the race so I walked. The marathon in an Ironman is very long regardless of your pace, but it was really daunting to think about walking 26.2 miles so I used milestones to shorten the distance into manageable parts. I'll share my experience based on those milestones.
Not surprisingly, I wasn’t the only one walking. Some people needed time to ease in after the bike and some were feeling the effects of the heat. Others, like me, had planned to walk and would be walking all night. There are many ways to approach an Ironman and blasting out of T2 at a strong pace isn’t the only way. I met my first walk buddy of the day and we covered a mile or so together. His name was Jeffrey and he was walking because he claimed to be a horrible runner. A race photographer got a shot of us coming off Capitol Square together so I was able to look back and see that Jeffrey walked his way to a 6 hour run split. Not bad at all.
I had moments where I walked alone and relied on the energy of the spectators, volunteers and passing athletes to keep me motivated. It was an interesting position to be in given I’ve always seen myself as a runner. Everything looked and felt different and I was seeing a marathon in a way I never have before. I thought a lot about the significant accomplishment we’d all made up to that point in just being there. And I thought about the finish and how much I wanted it, but still might not make it.
One of the more unique parts of the course is a lap around Camp Randall Stadium about 2.5 miles into the race. When I got inside I noticed the surface was spongy grass so I decided to jog a little. It felt so good to switch to running muscles even if only for a moment. I enjoyed my little lap and slowed back to a walk at the end. Just then I recognized a friend and caught up with him for a couple miles of walking and talking. I found I was keeping a much more brisk pace when accompanied by another runner. There were countless kind souls who carried me through the race and I have no doubt I would have taken even longer without them. It was particularly nice to spend time with someone I knew.
Next up I had State Street and the huge crowds that come along with it. I also knew my family would be there. They were right near the first timing mat and turnaround at 6.35 miles. I was averaging a 15:38/mile pace. Not great, but not horrible. I felt energized from seeing my parents. Their excitement was really touching and I realized the Ironman means just as much to the people who love us. I continued on, focusing on the 13.1 mile turnaround as my next milestone.
I felt the best during the Part Two of the race. I saw another friend and she walked with me for a mile or so. I had another stranger join me for a couple miles. The time spent alone allowed me to reflect and enjoy my surroundings. I was in pain, but it was normal, manageable pain. I was doing a marathon regardless of how fast or slow I was moving so there was bound to be pain. The sun was still shining and I was filled with energy. At mile 12 I decided to run. I started with a very slow jog and gradually increased to a less slow jog. Because of the change in movement, it felt great. Shortly after I reached Capitol Square and the massive crowds gave me a shot of adrenaline, which can be dangerous since it momentarily wipes all feeling of pain. I saw my parents shortly before the turnaround and was filled with joy. I saw friends as I rounded the corner and spotted the finish line head on for the first time that day. I wasn't depressed like I thought I'd be as I started that second loop, but rather filled with hope that I might be back there in a few more hours to cross that line myself. At the turnaround I was down to a 15:47/mile pace and on track for a 7 hour marathon split. I could live with that.
I stopped at special needs, sat on the ground and proceeded to Body Glide my good foot, which was gradually turning into one big blister. The pronounced limp and long miles were creating immense pressure so the blisters were inevitable. I didn't care. I would have walked my foot down to a bloody stump in order to finish. I wanted it that badly. I also grabbed the most important things: a baggie full of Cheez Its and a huge, delicious chocolate sand cookie - a dark chocolate cookie sprinkled with sea salt - from a local cafe. The cookie went in my pocket for later and I got to work on the crackers. It was a nice change from the on-course snacks I'd been enjoying for nearly 3.5 hours already. As I left Capitol Square a volunteer handed me a glow stick necklace and told me it had to be on my body at all times. Sunset was coming.
I continued to jog for another few miles and felt good. I walked a bit on the way to Camp Randall, then jogged again on the comfortable squishiness inside the stadium. But soon after Camp Randall the pain really started to set in. I was roughly 16 miles into the run so it wasn't a surprise, but having 10 miles to go made me nervous. Would my foot hold up that long? I had just seen the finish and heard people being called an Ironman by Mike Reilly. The thought of not making it there myself was difficult to accept. I kept walking.
I went through several quiet miles and daylight was gone. Darkness in the Ironman can be hard to deal with. At times I was in total sensory deprivation. There were no lights. No visibility. No other athletes. No sound except the shuffling of my own feet. I was in a lot of pain and starting to worry more. I cried a bit on and off through these difficult miles. I cried from the pain and I cried from the overload of emotion. But I never wanted to quit and I never questioned why I was there. I had never wanted anything more and I was determined to keep moving forward. As I reached the top of the hill on Observatory I finally encountered another athlete. He was in worse shape than I, shuffling along slowly and repeatedly dry heaving. He at least had a friend walking with him, but my heart went out. I gave him some words of encouragement as I passed hoping he'd find the same energy I'd been drawing from all day.
At that point I was steps away from State Street which meant light, other athletes, spectators and my parents. That gave me the push to keep going. Just before the 19.23 mile turnaround, I saw my mom and dad. I stopped, got some hugs and told them for the first time that day that I would finish. My dad said, "You have 3.5 hours to walk less than seven miles. You're going to be an Ironman today." Those words pushed me ahead. I was down to a 15:53/mile average pace, but somehow found the energy and will to jog a little.
This is where the true test of what I was made from began. I kept up the jog-shuffle for less than a mile before severe and alarming pain struck and slowed me to a crawl. At first I could barely walk and wondered if I'd have to stop. Then a guy at the aid station asked if I was Lazy Marathoner. His name was Bill and he told me he'd been reading my blog. We exchanged some words and I was instantly boosted with energy. It was another one of those incredible moments that pushed me forward.
The next couple miles were the hardest. I was out along Lake Mendota where there is no light and nothing to see. My foot was so swelled that my shoelaces were digging into the top and the pain was overwhelming. I was comparing the pain to my right foot to evaluate if it was normal and paying close attention for any pulling or tearing sensations. As I approached the incredibly energetic mile 21 aid station and my second lap around the Inspiration Mile, an area where signs from loved ones are posted and an electronic timing mat calls up a message for most athletes, I was barely moving. I decided to make my first and only porta potty stop in more than five hours of walking the marathon. I had been afraid to break forward momentum and my coordination was shot. Anything beyond simple, slow, straightforward movement was difficult to manage due to the lack of control I had over my body. I had seen a guy passed out at the mile 20 aid station and thought just how easy it would be to lose it all at that point. I continued on, but was unable to derive any joy from the aid station or the inspiration zone due to the low point I had reached. Then I passed friends on their way back about two miles ahead and their words of encouragement snapped me back to reality. I kept moving, but logged two miles in 40 minutes, by far the slowest I had been all day.
Just when I thought I'd hit rock bottom, around mile 22, two strangers walked up beside me and saved the day. Their names were Kara and Scott and they didn't know each other until a few miles back. That is the beauty of Ironman. Strangers are instantly bonded with strangers over this incredible common ground. Both were injured or had been battling chronic injury and were forced to walk. It was so great to have company to pull me out of the dark hole in my mind that was too easy to fall into, so I picked up the pace to keep up with them. I went from a 20-minute mile to around a 16-minute mile and while it hurt, it was possible. We walked and talked from mile 22 until we reached that final loop around Capitol Square. Prior to the race, previous IMWI athletes had shared advice for race day and one said:
"Once you reach the Capitol on your second lap, let it all out. Tears, fist pumps, screams. It is your time. Enjoy the last five minutes because it is what you will remember."
Those words stuck in my mind and I thanked Kara and Scott and let them go ahead. I wanted this time to myself and besides, they were planning to run the finish when I barely had a walk left in me. I took this final walk even more slowly and absorbed every moment.
As I neared the finish, the few spectators remaining along with the final aid station volunteers congratulated me and called me an Ironman. I wasn't an Ironman yet, but for the first time in weeks, I was sure I would be. I could hear the finish and knew it was within my reach. As I made the second to last turn, I let a small pack of runners pass while I continued to walk. I honestly didn't think I could even jog. But as I neared the final turn onto MLK into the finish chute, I heard the music, I heard the cheering and stepped into the spotlight, and from somewhere inside me I didn't know existed, I found the energy to run the final stretch. My good friend adrenaline kicked in and left me completely numb to physical pain and allowed me to run on a foot that was barely functional. Those final moments were unbelievable. I had the entire chute to myself and heard Mike Reilly say, "Kristin Torres from Brooklyn New York," at which point he paused. I looked up at him, he pointed at me and said, "Kristin, you are an Ironman." I crossed the finish line after a life-changing 15 hours, 48 minutes and 17 seconds.
I had completed the goal I set for myself one year ago, but in a drastically different way than I ever imagined. What started as a nightmare two weeks before the race turned into a dream when I crossed that finish line. It wasn't easy. It wasn't pretty. It wasn't always fun. But it was rewarding, memorable and incredibly inspiring and it was the most special thing I'd ever been part of. I had no regrets. I was an Ironman.
Time - 7:09:29